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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

These are not the droids you're looking for

Over here, I've apparently proved my previous statements about John Rogers. I'm 'imperious rectum'. He's, well, Rogers. I don't deny I'm making an ass of myself. I will, however, point out that my choice of pseuds for my comments should have been a tip off to, you know, a brilliant professional comic like Mr. Rogers that I was kinda sorta kidding around with him.

This leads me to muse somewhat on relationships, and blogging, and stuff like that. Bear with me. Or don't. It's not like I charge admission here or anything. Although you know I would if I could.

Essentially (in my observation, anyway) every voluntary relationship we continue to involve ourselves in is an attention transaction. The deal basically boils down to a contract, and the contract reads thusly – “I will provide you with desirable attention for your bullshit, if you will provide me in return with desirable attention for my bullshit”. This varies in degree or intensity, depending on whether or not one is talking about one’s parent, or sibling, or best friend, or life partner, or casual acquaintance at work or from public transportation… but boiled down to the most basic level, this is what every single relationship we choose to maintain is. You pay the kind of attention I want to me, I’ll pay the kind of attention you want to you.

Certain types of relationships can intensify this. Friendship, for example, when it’s real and it means something, occasionally has to be about not just giving our attention-partner what they want, but what they need. The current buzz word for this, when it happens, is ‘intervention’, and none of us particularly like it. But that’s rare. For the most part, it all comes down to a constant negotiation – this is the kind of attention I want from you, and this is the kind of attention I’m prepared to provide to you back in exchange for it.

I am in no way trying to denigrate human relationships by presenting this simple abstraction. I’m just trying to clarify how it seems to me that pretty much all voluntary relationships actually work. I believe that when we get some understanding of what is actually going on in our lives, it can be helpful to us, which is why I struggle to grasp these things. I do understand that the words ‘attention’ and ‘contract’ and ‘transaction’ have come to be associated with primarily negative indices in our current cultural context, but, nonetheless, these are the precise words that apply. Or so I believe.

A healthy relationship is one in which both people involved are living up to the contract. Both clearly understand the kinds of attention they want, and the kinds of attention they will get in exchange for it from each other, and both are satisfied with each end of the deal. They give what they want, and they get they want.

Occasionally you may run into someone who simply doesn’t understand how this works, or who really doesn’t care. This leads into what we call unhealthy relationships, where the contract is basically dysfunctional. One person is providing more attention than they are getting back, basically, or they aren’t getting back the kind of attention they want. A great many times in these unbalanced relationships, one of the people involved is perfectly happy, because they are getting exactly what they want, and they don’t much care if their partner isn’t. These relationships can be short lived, if the partner being short changed is aware of what’s going on and decides to cut their losses, or they can last years, decades, or a lifetime, if the partner on the short end of it is determined to ‘make it work’. But these will not be happy, supportive, nurturing relationships… at least, not for both people involved. One of the people in such a relationship is going to be pretty miserable. The other person, on the other hand, will tend to be extremely resentful of anyone trying to introduce any changes into the established attention equation; he or she is perfectly happy with it, and in fact, regards this as being, basically, the agreed on contract, and anyone who tries to disrupt it, as being entirely in the wrong.

Having said all that, I’m now going to talk about (of all frickin’ things) blogging.

Blogging is an attention transaction, always. If it wasn’t, we’d do all this in private journals. Different blogs embody different types of contracts, and this basically breaks down into two different groups – the blogs that have comment threads on them, and the blogs that don’t.

As a general rule, if a blog has no comment threads, it’s being run by someone who is reasonably famous and successful, in some field or another, and they don’t want the hassle of having to deal with comment threads. This basically comes down to, they feel they get enough desirable attention already from other aspects of their lives; they aren’t looking for more from the people reading their blogs. More attention from their blog audience would be, by definition, un desirable attention; even if all they get is slobbering asskissers, they just don’t have the time to spend responding to these people at the level they’ll want. And, of course, there’s the simple fact that if you’re a person of any intelligence at all, and you post often enough to the Internet, you are going to enrage some dimwit out there, and that dimwit will, if they have the opportunity, cuss you out for committing the grievous sin of pissing them off. Many folks who already have sufficient self esteem feel they don’t need that crap, either. So… no comment threads. (And these guys STILL get flooded with email from their pathetic, attention desperate audiences. Ask Mark Evanier if you don’t believe me.)

Then there are all the blogs out there with comment threads. Like this one, and so so many more.

When you hit that little button that says ‘yes’ to enabling comment threads in the Blogger template, or however your particular blog does it, you are basically saying “I’m not getting enough attention in my life. I’m looking for some more.” We may not like to admit that, but, well, that’s what we’re doing. It’s why we blog. Our reluctance to cop to that, to own it, doesn’t make it any less true. And there’s nothing essentially wrong with that. Attention is the primary currency of human interaction; nearly all of us want more of it. The few who don’t, are not only getting enough of it already, they are generally getting too much of it… because not all attention is desirable, by any means.

That last point is something we bloggers tend to overlook, though. We post our stuff, we enable the comment threads, and we sit back and wait for comments. Essentially, we are saying “Pay attention to me!” But what we overlook is that, in our hearts, what we really want is desirable attention… but we aren’t ordering off a menu.

Set up a blog with comment threads, and you are essentially throwing open your doors to anyone who wants to come by and make their mark. And it’s important to realize that. We don’t get to pick and choose who shows up, or what they say. We can expect, and even demand, a certain basic level of civility, as a simple matter of the basic social contract… but we have no real right to expect mindless approbation, nor to get pissy, or hysterical, or insanely, cruelly vindictive, to those who provide us with attention that doesn’t quite match up to what we want, or even have come to expect, over the period that our blog has been established.

It’s important to understand that we ourselves set up the terms of the attention contract we are offering in the way we set up our blogs and our comment threads. Set up an entirely public blog and make no effort whatsoever to conceal the URL from undesirables, and you are opening yourself up to the whole wide world. There are blog providers who make it possible to set up ‘private’ blog pages – Live Journal and My Space do it, and for all I know, it’s possible with Blogger, too. Barring that, I myself had ‘private’ blogs on Angelfire for years; I set them up that way deliberately through the simple expedient of only telling a few trusted friends about the URL, and making an effort to keep out of search engines by asking those few trusted friends not to post links to the page.

However, most of us want at least the potential of getting desirable attention from new providers. So, we set up public blogs, beg our friends who have blogs for links and plugs, send out mass emails to other bloggers we barely know asking for the same, post to a lot of comment threads hoping people will like our comments and trace them back to our blogs, register with search engines… you know the drill, I’m sure.

Here’s the thing, though -- set up an entirely public blog and you are basically accepting that anyone can read it whenever they want to. Certainly you are hoping that anyone who reads it will respond to it in a fashion that you find gratifying -- most of us hope, in fact, that someone will read it and respond to it in a fashion that will transform our lives in a positive fashion, by offering us a book contract or our own TV show or newspaper column or something equally absurd. Nonetheless, again, and I must stress this -- we don’t get to order off a menu. You want widespread attention, you have to take the good with the bad… and there will be bad.

What’s even more important than this is the simple truth – just because we don’t like something someone posts to our comment threads, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the comment, or the commenter. Sometimes, we get a little bit spoiled.

Having said all that, and being someone who has a very public blog myself, another way we can write privacy clauses into our blogging attention contracts is through our comment threads. I’ve already noted that some bloggers simply don’t have comment threads – these people, basically, just don’t need or want the added attention. But those of us who do want it can still take one more little step if we want to – most of us have the capacity, if we choose, to moderate our comment threads.

There’s a price for this, naturally – it cuts down on the comments we receive. Or I presume it does, anyway. I only know for certain that when I myself come across a blog that I like and want to comment on, if the comment threads are moderated, it gives me pause, and sometimes, depending on my mood, it may even offend or infuriate me. When this happens, it’s pretty much my problem; it isn’t a personal rejection; the blogger most likely doesn’t even know me… yet, more often than not, my response will be to shrug and say “fine, bitch, you won’t let me put up a comment without looking at it first, you can just get along without Happy Little Me in your threads at all”.

Which, you know, they will, cheerfully.

I choose to moderate my comment threads because, while I cannot control who comes to my blog and reads my nonsense, I can and will control who gets to post their particular viewpoints to my little piece of the Internet. Anyone who has enough time to read a blog certainly has enough time to set one up, so controlling my comment threads isn’t denying anyone their freedom of expression… I’m simply saying “go get your OWN soapbox”. And I’d prefer not to moderate my comment threads, honestly… if I didn’t, maybe some of the hundreds of new visitors I get every time Kalinara is nice enough to link to one of my obnoxious entries would actually post something.

However, I’ve chosen to restrict access to my comment threads, knowing full well what it costs me in terms of the attention I blog in hopes of receiving, because, well, I have these troll-stalkers, see, and at least one of them has vowed to do everything in his power to screw up not only my blogging experience, but the blogging experience of everyone he knows that associates with me, and that guy’s comments not only upset me, they upset the love of my life, too, and I won’t be having any of that nonsense here.

Then, of course, there are the people who are specifically disinvited to hang out at a particular site. This is a tricky situation. Some sites do allow a webmaster to block access to specific people, but there are fairly easy ways around that. What it comes down to is, does one individual have a right to say to another individual that they can’t come onto their site? And if they do, does the other individual have a right to simply ignore them, if they can’t enforce the request somehow?

This is always going to be a highly subjective question, and one’s answer is largely doing to depend on what end of the transaction one finds oneself at. If you’re trying to keep your significant other’s obnoxious ex-spouse and his even more obnoxious current paramour off your site, well, you’re going to think they’re jerks for ignoring your polite request to fuck the fuck off. On the other hand, if John Rogers over at Kung Fu Monkey is essentially making it plain that he’d rather eat a cereal bowl full of broken light bulbs rather than see one more goddam comment from your scrofulous ass in his threads again, well, you may very well feel like, what the fuck, you’re a fan of the blog just like everyone else, it’s an open blog, the threads are unmoderated, and you’ll post whatever you want, motherfucker.

Of course, the difference in hypotheticals there is, in the first case, our hypothetical bloggers have very specifically told certain people that their congress is unwanted on the blogs in question, and that specific statement is being willfully ignored, because the people in question have about the equivalent emotional maturity between them of my 6 year old soon to be stepdaughter. (I grant you, she’s a pretty mature kid for her age, but still.) In the second, John Rogers hasn’t exactly said “get the fuck off my blog, fanboy”, as Aaron Hawkins once did oh so long ago right before he killed his dumb ass self; no, instead, Rogers is simply posting several hundred word rants about how badly I must have screwed up every relationship in my life if this is my so called sense of humor, and how he’s really really funny so he knows all that must be true. So, clearly on some level he’s enjoying my posts there, although he may not be consciously aware of it, and he’s keeping the lines of communication open.

Yeah, right.

Anyway. If there’s a point here, it’s that everything we do voluntarily that has to do with other people is an attention transaction, and that includes blogging, and responding to whatever responses our blogging brings us. If we set up our blogs and our comment threads a certain way, because we’re hoping for a certain type and level of attention, well, as with anything in life, we need to accept that we may not always get exactly what we want. And sometimes, that’s not something we should blame other people for.

Other times, of course, it is.

That is all. You can be about your business.

2 Comments:

At 11:06 PM , Anonymous S.M. Stirling said...

It's my observation that unmoderated threads quickly turn from soapbox to catbox, and only those who like a very abrasive universe of discourse remain.

(This is why I've sworn off unmoderated forums, for the most part; I just don't enjoy losing my temper and have a low tolerance for being dissed.)

The Web encourages rudeness of a level that never happens in person -- probably because of a combination of low bandwidth, and lack of immediate negative feedback when you step over the line.

BTW, weren't you going to post a review of A MEETING AT CORVALLIS? 8-).

 
At 12:54 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

I keep meaning to post that. Yet whenever I start on it, it always seems to me that I should go back and reread the entire trilogy before I post it. And then, it seems like I should reread the ISLANDER trilogy first...

Nah, I'll get to it. Thanks for reminding me.

The Web certainly does enable cowardice in a manner only previously seen with crank callers. However, just as caller ID has largely wiped out phone pranksterism, so too will advances in technology make the anonymity of the Internet a thing of the past. Congress has already made Internet harassment a crime, and while I'm not wild about those kind of laws, hey, if we have to live in a police state, we may as well enjoy the few advantages.

 

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