Sunday, October 09, 2005

Extending Class Discussion...Online conversation

Drafted Sept 27/05 10:00 p.m. - finally!

Well, I knew it would be a dynamic class, just from the topic alone - which is one with which I identify with, rather strongly. I have had an "online life" (I so hate the distinction) for years. And it began when my now-12-year-old was 3. It began by way of the art that I began to take up - the art of rubber stamping. Really fun, showed me that I DO have a graphics side (which has since grown ONLY due to my being so active online!) and my self-confidence in this area began to increase. I found a group of stampers across the globe, a group which helped me to discover new techniques and ideas, and I then joined swaps - where we were given themes, we had to create 5 identical items (cards, magnets, bookmarks etc) according to that theme, send our items off to the host or hostess of the swap who then sent back 5 different items to every participant. I even hosted several swaps - one of which was actually where I was the hostess receiving cards acknowledging Scottie Hamilton's newly discovered cancer, and wishing him well - we got over 75 cards which I sent off to Scottie (to an email addy I found online for his fans).

When my second son was born, my husband was in a job which took him out of the house pretty much 7 days a week, sometimes 18 hours a day. Our older son was facing challenges (we didn't know what he was facing, and so-called experts wanted to [mis]diagnose him as autistic), I had a nursing infant, and was alone with all of this. It was overwhelming. My art was my therapy, but so were my friends across the world. Opening up the computer was a saving grace to me. Suddenly I was out in the world, socializing in the baby's naptime while my 3.5-year-old was playing, and I found myself opening up to these people. I had met some of them at artists' conventions the year before and 2 years before, but they were my online support group and my "escape"...and many of them are people I still chat with, on and off, to this day.

From there, I branched out - finding different groups and learning digital graphics as well. Began to learn HTML on my own, and attended online classes with a rubber stamp artist whose job is web design. Again, the "online world" was teaching me more than I could have imagined.

Won't go into the evolution of my escapades online (sounds so mysterious doesn't it *g*) but I can honestly say that the few people with whom I am close online (and when I say "close" I mean that if they showed up at my doorstep it would be as easy to invite them in as it would be had we met for coffee or lunch the day before) are people I trust with *me*. In fact, there are a very few people "online" who know me better than even my own family. I have questioned, often, why that is, why that happens. I have studied those online relationships I have witnessed (which I'll get into when we discuss that aspect of it, in class) and have tried to understand the phenomenon. I know it has a LOT more to do with it than convenience, anonymity, "safety"'s more than that. But I have my theories and will keep them for Online Friendships/Relationships.

Have I experienced "fallings-out" online? You bet! Have I had them often? That usually happened with the same people - many of whom I have let go their own ways. I found there were a lot of shallow people I "met" online and those were the people I never trusted with my real "self"...not my innermost thoughts, feelings, ideas. There is still an acquaintance I have, someone who is difficult to talk to at times - does NOT like to hear things about herself and has bristled when I have broached the truth with her. I redefined the boundaries of our friendship and now, it is an acquaintance but I don't have the same friendship I have with others I have "met". With those...I can truly say there are special connections, sometimes to the point of being psychic. One who can tell, just from the way I open conversation, what my mood is (usually with, "Okay, what's wrong?" when I type my first greeting...). These people - and I can count them on one hand - are the people with whom I have phone conversations, online conversations, emails, and send snail mail. The limitations that prevent face-to-face meeting vary, but if it were possible, it would happen - and I am not so certain it never will...

So ...miscommunications. It was mentioned, in class, tone of voice, eye contact, gestures, facial expressions, and the like are all elements of conversation which cannot be replicated in online conversation. I agree. I'll never forget the 3 elements my teacher looked for, in a high school communication-arts class: eye contact, saying the other person's name from time to time, and touching a forearm here and there. So yes, they are important.

BUT...I have found that with skills and sensitivities, those things can be CONVEYED...maybe it's my writer's side, but I have learned how to "paint the word pictures"...and I have always tried to soften a potentially ambiguous remark with smiles, or emoticons (depending on the venue) or gentle humor. Example...I might say something and then put, in brackets, "she says with a wry smile" - it softens any misinterpretation.

Of course, there are those who will ALWAYS look for the negative...but I cannot be occupied with fragile egos and huffy attitudes. I've encountered WAY more of those than I'd care to document - in my online AND my offline! Those people who will complain about something and then eschew my advice (asked-for advice) on the topic are those who have gone away from my circle because I have either blocked them (more about that in a minute) or changed my chat name/address. I am not harsh - I err on the side of being TOO nice...but I also have my fill of those people who try to take advantage of my good nature.

Social norms...mores...etiquette...blocking people, ignoring them, "going invisible" to them...this takes the technology and brings conversation and relationships to different levels. Am I guilty of it, of course I am! But - to quote a well-known character - not that there's anything WRONG with it...sometimes it is merely in self-preservation that I must block out the "noise".

Is it rude? Probably. But I won't block people indiscriminately nor will I do it at some times and not at others. When I block people, it is usually permanently (if I cannot change everything over from my chatware) or temporarily till I finish what I'm doing or can deal with them again.

More mishaps that I have encountered - though am not guilty of propagating...there is one person I chat with online - she has, often, c&p'd huge chunks of conversation she has with others - mostly the man in her life (an online relationship that has gone the next step but only on occasion - long, sordid story I won't go into here) - and asked my opinion. I have no desire to see intimate conversation between two individuals...and they wouldn't invite me to their tête-à-tête conversations, nor into their bedroom so why would it be okay for me to "see" what is being said? This is something I struggle with; it is something that seems to happen often in the online world but something I struggle with because I no more wish to become that c&p than I wish to be recipient of it...

This is where the dangers come into online communication. Where people just reproduce entire portions of their lives - private or not - for the sake of being ABLE to do so! And breaks all kinds of social etiquette - online AND offline!!

This same person asked me to become a part of her graphics site - a site that mainly designs avatars for chatrooms. They call themselves "freelancers" and there is nothing involved in terms of remuneration, only artistic gratification. I was asked to join (though I've absolutely NO free time to do this work for them) and she made sure to tell me that the recommendation to join their group came from 2 others in the group. I asked her who, and she told me - these are people I do NOT know (the proverbial weak ties, I suppose, in her social network). I asked why they'd ask me to join and she said they like the way I stretch my artistic abilities. Again I asked, specifically, how they would KNOW such a thing. She said - almost flippantly - "Oh, because they've seen some of the work you've done." You guessed it - she's SENT my work to them...she says "oh, I was discriminating, I didn't send ALL of it," but it still affected me to the point of knowing I would refuse even for that reason alone.

Given the question from class (how has it changed my behavior when a communication mishap occurs), I can rightfully say that my behavior has already changed because of her revelation - no longer will I share graphics I wouldn't put on my own website. I don't do anything that I am not proud to share but there are things I have done that I don't feel belong in the general public. Will it change her behavior? No. Has her behavior changed since the day I asked her to refrain from telling me the nitty-gritty details of her conversations? No. She still tells me things but she paraphrases instead of sending me transcripts. Same thing - different cloak...

My behavior toward people like that changes in terms of my conversation style. Usually I will not run to open chat windows with this type - and if they begin conversation with me, I am armed with wariness that comes from the experience of history. Is it great to converse that way - of course not. But she is, despite incredibly frustrating, rather harmless. She sent my graphics to others? Okay...not tragic. But a red flag. She gives me her personal version of Desperate Housewives? Not horrendous - I can usually find something to do to either get offline, or change the topic subtly or point blank say, "This really isn't appropriate to be sharing with me," but it doesn't have me running for the hills. Why do I keep her as a contact? Because except for the not-so-fatal flaws, she is someone I talk to about graphics (though lately, she tells me I've been teaching her more than she ever taught me) and she's someone to chat with on most other topics too. Close friend? No. But no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Now, the one who gossiped to me about a mutual friend, then turned around and did the same with that person about me? GONZO!! *g*

(Stalled long enough on editing this draft! But I think the topic requires close examination and will probably revisit it in future postings)


batgrrl said...

Hi Lissa - I've been too busy with school during midterms to visit the pond much, but I miss hanging out with you there. Thanks for sharing your experiences like this. I want to give you more positive reinforcement for being so welcoming online. And I must admit while planning my next vacation the thought crossed my mind that if I came to your town we could meet in person, and that would be great fun!


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Jet said...

Hi Lissa long time no see on the pp list. I miss you! And the "funny" thing is your story could be mine... My eldest daughter
was also diagnosed autistic, which wasn't true either!