Not an Odalisque

Posts Tagged ‘internet

Do You Know Who I Am?

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We all know that the internet is not a space conducive to anonymity. We are being watched. The state is looking for people involved in terrorism, child pornography, file sharing and probably the avoidance of parking fines. Advertisers want to learn about us so that they can sell us things more successfully, although I can hardly say that they do it very effectively, since Facebook seems to think that I am an overweight lesbian primary school teacher in need of several new mobile phones. Nevertheless, an impression of anonymity tends to persist. ‘The Psychology of the Internet’ by Patricia Wallace explores this. To simplify a book into a sentence, she argued that we separate our online lives from our ‘real’ lives, and therefore our online selves from our real selves. To some extent, we all live the cliché of the dirty old man lurking in the teenagers’ chatroom pretending to be a giggly girl.

I’m not sure that Wallace is right. We all have many selves which are expressed according to context. I imagine that I would behave in one way at a Women’s Institute flower arranging class and another at a swingers’ club. I’ve never had the pleasure of attending either, but from reports of acquaintances who have, required actions at one would be entirely inappropriate at the other. We modulate our expressions of ourselves during every minute of our lives, dressing differently for the office, the pub and the neighbour’s two year old’s birthday party. I even find my accent changing, the longer I spend in Yorkshire. This modulation is necessary, if only because otherwise you will surely shock your granny. Whether you see yourself as an integrated individual expressing different aspects of yourself, or a handful of postmodern fragments constructed from God-knows-what is a question which can wait until someone has written a clear and concise précis of Judith Butler’s work. That might take a while.

The internet isn’t a space separate from real life, my life is real to me if I am in it. Many parts of my life only become real after I have involved the internet. I haven’t successfully organised a meeting of three or more people without the intermediary of Facebook for some time. It could certainly be argued that Facebook, in which others have contributed to the picture of me as much as I have, is a more accurate reflection of myself than the image I would paint alone.

The internet does provide access to things which were previously rather difficult to find if, like me, you are bad at reading maps, or have lived with people who tore leaves out of the Yellow Pages. Most importantly, it is easy to find people who share your obscure interests. There was a time when finding fetish pornography, for example, must have been a bit of an operation. My town doesn’t have an adult shop, and although the newsagent stocks the usual range of top-shelf magazines, I don’t think you’ll find any Shibari rope tying in there. Perhaps you have the courage to ask the woman at the counter to order you something in. I certainly wouldn’t, so suddenly I would be on the bus into York, trawling for shops which step back from the pavement and hunch their shoulders under their raincoats. Once you’ve found one, glanced furtively around to check that you aren’t being observed by friends or colleagues, you can take a deep breath and go in. Advance past the rack of whips, cuffs and leather. Try not to give too much thought to the rubberwear, or ask yourself who actually buys polyester French maid costumes. Don’t get distracted by the intricacies of the strange eroticism of the Snow White outfit on the mannequin, you will have time to think about it later. Right now, just edge along until you reach the magazines. Don’t go too far, or you’ll be in the extensive gay section, and you don’t want to see what’s going on in there. Here you are. Three bondage magazines, take a copy and wipe off the dust. I know the man behind the counter is staring at you, and you would really prefer a dark corner to inspect your possible purchase, but, frankly, if you were a sex shop proprietor, would you provide dark corners for lurky men to paw at magazines? Just have a quick shufty under the strip lights. You’ll be fine as long as you don’t look up.

Stop! I told you not to look up, didn’t I? You didn’t think she was real, did you? Eejit! All I can say is that you’ve obviously never seen the real Tera Patrick in action. When you’ve stopped mistaking inflatable dolls for naked women, you’d better pick up all those vibrators you knocked over. Turn that big purple one off, while you’re at it. What, you want to leave? But you haven’t picked yourself a magazine yet. Are you sure that one will do? Well, if you want to pay for three just because you’re feeling self conscious, on your own head be it. Just get them bagged up properly so that no one knows what you’re carrying on the bus home.

Let us compare that experience to typing “fetish porn Shibari” into Google. You get 27,100 results which I’m not going to explore because that may take a while and I’m writing this for you. The chances are, though, that pictures of naked women and elaborate knot work aren’t going to be enough for you anyway. You want to find other people like you, with whom you can share this new, exciting side of your character. You could be part of a community, exchanging tips on the best knotting techniques, laughing at Shibari related jokes and maybe, if you are lucky, you’ll meet a girl and get to do some tying up of your very own.

It doesn’t have to be Shibari. I’ve wormed my way into online communities to do with writing, activism, Guardian-reading and BDSM. You may have chosen Scotty dogs and Morris dancing, but they essentially the same. You’ve found something you are vaguely interested in, and, because it was easy, gone for a poke about. You may or may not have stayed, but the internet is big enough, and people multifaceted enough, that I’m sure something will have caught your interest.

Perhaps your behaviour was a little erratic at first. On joining any sort of online community, from Twitter to Facebook to (I kid you not), you are in a new culture. You’ve come alone to the party, and there’s a chance you’ll get drunk and throw up in the host’s handbag. Since everyone at the party has a slightly different agenda, finding a model for your own behaviour can be difficult. At least, that’s the excuse I make for the dirty messages strangers send me on Facebook and Fetlife. There are some weirdoes out there, but then, there are Daily Mail readers out there, too, so what can you do?

If you are one of the Scotty Dog Lovers you are probably not too worried about being discovered. Some people I see online must fear discovery daily: married men looking for casual sex, criminals boasting of their crimes. I’m sure that most people are like me, they just don’t want their separate worlds to mesh. I don’t want my schoolfriends to know just how bad my poetry is, I don’t want my ex-boyfriends to see pictures of me on a bad hair day, and really don’t want my father to see the list of enjoyable activities which graces my profile on Fetlife. The separation of myself on different parts of the internet gives me a freedom of expression which I value.

The separating walls are beginning to crumble. It all started when an acquaintance from the National Novel Writing Month launch party took the very simple step of Googling the name I use on the NaNoWriMo forums. He was able to discover: my Writewords profile, including some writing; my Guardian Soulmates profile; and this blog. Now someone in my real life knows a little bit too much. He doesn’t know anyone else I know, though, so it’s ok. Then yesterday I got a message on Fetlife from someone who had originally seen me on Guardian Soulmates, asking if I would like to meet. I have begun to realise how difficult it is to keep my selves separate.

Since the beginning, I have relied on everyone’s indifference. How many people are interested enough to trawl the internet looking for traces of me? I have always thought that the number must be close to zero. Then I had a look at my own behaviour.
I regularly check the Facebook pages of people I haven’t spoken to in years. Who wouldn’t want to know if their ex-lover is dating someone better looking than them? Who wouldn’t want to know if the actor they had a one night stand with has made it big yet? I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this. Then there’s the obsessive researching of potential dates. Mostly you get a handful of mentions on out of date websites, but now and again you can learn a lot from published work or—joy of joys—their very own website. A friend pulled up my last boyfriend’s site the day before our second date. His academic writing was unexciting, the pictures of himself with his cat were slightly embarrassing, but his music was excruciating. We sat and listened to every track of self-composed tragedy and heartache. We cringed, we laughed, we cringed again, and then we asked each other why anyone would open their heart to such a degree in such a public forum.

In the light of all this perhaps I need to reconsider my assumption about the indifference of my acquaintance. Shall I bury myself under another couple of layers of anonymity, or shall I come out, to all and sundry?

Do let me know what you think.

Written by Not an Odalisque

November 27, 2009 at 10:59 pm

NaNoWriMo Day Ten: Procrastination

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I hate my characters, I don’t care what happens to them. I don’t want to write about them today. I’m doing what any of us would do: sitting in front of the computer, with my novel file open, browsing the internet. I’ve read most of the Guardian online. I’ve checked my inbox on several social networking sites, and written long replies to strangers who contacted me with idle questions. I’ve checked for comments on my poetry on WriteWords, and grown maudlin because nobody ever understands my poetry. Then I turned to the biggest contributor to online procrastination: the NaNoWriMo website.

If I am not making progress on my own novel, I reason, I can at least help others with theirs. I therefore browse the ‘Plot and Character Realism Q&A’ forum, where writers can exchange knowledge which with relevance to their novels. I have had helpful responses to queries about abstract art and the nomenclature of Buddhist singing bowls. ‘What a wonderful use of technology,’ I hear you say. I realise that it is bad form to bitch about what people say in forums, but my pot of annoyance has finally bubbled over.

Too many Americans ask stupid questions. Too many of them give equally stupid answers.

One American with literary aspirations wants to know about the process of crossing from South to North Korea. I rather want to write a summary: “sneak up to the DMZ, step on a landmine, and allow your body parts to splat gracefully onto the ground. Alternatively, avoid the landmines and see which side spots you first, if you prefer a death by bullets.” Nicer people than me are helpfully explaining that the two are at war, and this part of her plot might be difficult. Another asks how an attractive woman might seduce a teenage boy. I’m tempted to respond “by being present”, but they are having an in-depth discussion of methods, and I wouldn’t want to interrupt. One girl wants to know what it is like to ‘be a minority’. What can I say? “We all are, love, but especially you.” The most stupid question has to be “did the Nazis occupy France during World War One?” but my favourite is “why would a sex-addicted 21 year old want to kill herself?” Why indeed?

The aspect which makes me want to scream is the quantity of questions asking “What’s it like in Britain?” Part of me wonders if the American market is crying out to be flooded with Anglophilic books. If it is, then why don’t some of the Americans who visit Britain write them? Surely there are enough tourists to fulfill the demand? But, no, those who have never even called into ‘Europe’ feel the need to set their novels in sleepy Dorset villages. So they post their questions for Brits to answer: “what do English people use instead of swear words?”, “what do they call the telephone directory in England?” and “what is different in England, compared to America?” It never seems to occur to them that their ignorance of us could be mirrored in our ignorance of them, so that we would not know what we are different from.

Fortunately, there are other Americans willing to step into the breach. Take, for example, the case of girl whose main character is moving to Edinburgh. The author has never been there herself. Luckily, an American who once spent a day there can inform her that “the locals are EXTREMELY nice.” She had been “surprised after all the animosity of the English at Heathrow Airport,” which surprised me, too, given that they were simultaneously in the presence of someone who capitalises adjectives for emphasis and in the most cheery, bustling tourist spot of Southern England. Happily, she found that “in Scotland everyone always seemed to be in a generally good mood.” That made me suspect that she was lying about her visit, but there were plenty of other Americans willing to contribute. “The money is ridiculous,” one notes, “especially the coins. They have no 1 Pound bills. Not that I ever got anyway.” She helpfully adds that when eating out, one must ask for “the check”, noting “that is just the culture.”

Even this, I think I could have ignored, if it wasn’t for a perfectly innocent post asking how aware Brits are of American politics. As Brits posted their replies, Americans emitted virtual shrieks of horror about British ignorance, not only of national politics, but also politics at the state level, and of ‘basic’ necessary facts such as the number of states in the States. I’ll happily admit to having no idea how many states there are in the USA, counties there are in Britain, or even sitters there are on my local library board, if you’ll leave me alone.

I’ll tell you what I do know about, though. My characters and my plot. I’ll leave you to your silly questions, I have writing to do.

Written by Not an Odalisque

November 10, 2009 at 5:12 pm

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