Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Perils of Cyberspace

All I can say to the overwhelming response to yesterday's post is WOW. It's great to see so many people commenting for the first time -- I mean, sure it's a contest and that's a motivator, but it opened up a nice opportunity to 'meet' some new folks and see what they have to say. The thing that's particularly exciting is what a diverse group we've got here -- readers from Brazil, Poland (and yes, I've been to Krakow -- I loved it!), Belgium, and all over the US chimed in (as well as other places I'm probably missing because they weren't specifically called out), readers from different age groups, and several readers with polydactyl cats! Fantastic!

I'll keep the dialogue going by turning to a different aspect of blogging and online lives in general, specifically with respect to how the increasing substitution of cyber for real interaction can result in further isolation and loneliness. This is an interesting aspect of the modern world we live in, because much of what the internet and social networking technologies supposedly provide is the ability to connect with people. But when you carefully tailor what part of you the online world sees, and if you carefully filter it so that only positive feedback enters your world, then what you're creating is an artificial community which bears no relation to the real world at all.

Sure, a world in which people only see the very best side of you and have only positive things to say all the time is a tempting world to create. But here's the thing: unless you live in a cave in the middle of the Siberian wilderness, chances are that you interact with the flesh-and-blood world of humans pretty often, and in that world the naysayers and haters can't be edited out. The way we manage our online personas can either help or hinder us in dealing with differing views out there in the real world.

I'm 100% certain that people have, at some point, walked by me on the street or clicked onto this blog and thought, "Good lord, what the hell is she wearing?" I know it because I've occasionally thought the very same thing about other people as well; we all have. Tastes are different, and there's just no possible way to please everyone all the time. So whether you seal yourself off from negative feedback or not, the negative opinions are still there and always will be. The problem with living in a rose-tinted bubble in which everyone loves everything you do is that you're surrounded by people who don't know the first thing about you. So when these adoring fans are all telling you how wonderful you are, to whom are they really expressing that sentiment? Not the you who still gets pimples and has a tummy roll and the occasional hangover and is crabby before the first cup of coffee. Not the you who's had embarrassing corduroy experiences or liked bad heavy metal music in the 80's or sometimes puts together an outfit that fails miserably.

But it's those very imperfections and foibles that allow our online selves to be more accessible, more 3-dimensional, and more real to the cyberworld at large, just as it's the honest, sometimes less-than-glowing opinions that the cyberworld may sometimes throw our way that allow us to build meaningful online interaction. And although there's no substitute for real life, face-to-face interaction, we can still build strong online communities by being as open and honest as we dare, and by inviting that honesty from those we interact with. Critique and dialog are important to our lives; without them we never really learn anything, nor do we feel that other people truly know us.

For another perspective on this topic, I'd like to point you to an article that's been on my mind recently, called 7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable, by editor David Wong. I've read David's stuff since he had his now-defunct Pointless Waste of Time blog, and while his writing occasionally veers into the realm of eye-rollingly juvenile, it is nevertheless thoroughly researched, intelligently written, and very often laugh-out-loud funny. His take on how living in an electronic age has lead to people having fewer meaningful relationships and a more negative world view is insightful and fascinating.

By the way, if you'd like to weigh in on this and yesterday's topic but AREN'T interested in winning a hat (because hey, I know not everyone loves hats, and that's ok!), then please leave your comments on this post. If you want to also be entered in the contest, then be sure to leave a comment on yesterday's post, or better yet, both!

Today's outfit:
Hat: from a shop in Hamburg, Germany
Dress: Skunkfunk
Scarf (as belt): Promod
Skirt: LA Made
Shoes: Art Shoes


Sara said...

First, I love the scarf-as-belt. The pattern is fantastic, especially with those shoes. I love drapey neckline of the dress, as well.

The biggest push for me to start my style blog was my shift to working from home. I've written about it ad nauseum on my blog, but essentially, I missed having those (sometimes awkward) office moments of "I love what you're wearing," or, "What made you decide to wear that on your head today?" or, "I have a scarf that would go perfectly with that dress." Or whatever. So I feel like I have a little bit of that in my life again by visiting other style blogs to see what people are wearing out and about, and if people want to, they can see what I'm wearing, too. I can comment and they can comment. It's certainly not the same as face-to-face, but it's a happy substitute for my at-home workday.

Thank you for the link to David Wong's article. Really well written and some great points.

Emily Kennedy said...

I fully agree with you that the downside to internet friendships is that the online version of a person is only a fraction of the real person. It's already a world of systematically edited selves.

So is the real world to some degree (thanks Foucault!), but not quite to the same degree as the online world.

Also, thanks for the article link. It got my gears turning.

poet said...

I have to go and repost the link to this article because it sums up all my problems with the effects of the virtual world. All the issues you get when you create a favorable partial identity, the lack of real closeness, etcetera. Me and a friend recently dreamt up this scenario of moving out to a farm with our whole circle of loved ones, growing our own vegetables and living off selling handmade things. It may not happen, but it goes along with everything said in the article... Thanks for posting this!

WendyB said...

I love #6 on the list...

I've been lucky and integrated virtual life-real life nicely. I've had good experiences meeting bloggers in real life, for sure. When I first started doing it in 2007, people would ask me, "Why?"

Kaija said...

Thanks for the link to the piece. It definitely resonated with me as a introvert who avoids a lot of random social interaction and spends a lot of time on the web :)

I also like what you said about being more real and open as to who you are, even on the internet. Reminds me of a phrase from a coaching course I took when I was coaching youth sports. The instructor stressed the idea of "transparent realism", and the fact that people want to and need to see the human face under the mask, and that being an authority figure or role model doesn't mean squelching any and all imperfections, bad moods, foibles, or personal idiosyncracies, because it is those things that people relate to and it's how you present your WHOLE self (warts and all) that has the impact. No one really likes or learns from a remote, godlike figure (I think I've had some bosses who tried to be that!).

Good your style and your blog :)

Unknown said...

I have to say your style is awesome! I've started to develop by brand, which I think it actually fairly similar to Sal's but, requires a bit of your influence to get me there. I am curious to know how your sense of style developed, as I assume you weren't born dressed so daringly. When did you start exploring interesting layers/textures/patterns? was it a conscious decision or a natural progression?

Lain said...

I read your blog every day, but almost never leave a comment. I guess I don't fine the need to tell you whether I like or don't like something. You obviously liked what you wore and that's great. Even if I hate what you have on that day, I enjoy reading your comments and usually take something from the outfit, even if it is… “I will never, ever wear anything that looks like that ever.”

Its interesting, we are the same age (I turned 40 in December) and share many of the same interests. I travel extensively (several times a year) and always immerse myself in the local culture. I am an artist in my spare time. I make jewelry and paint. I’ve never been to burning man, but I have made 4 art cars and drove an Egyptian Themed truck every day for 3 years before going incognito with my ride once more. I work in a serious field (accounting), yet try to push the envelope with my style, dressing more like Judy Aldridge, but in business clothes rather than denim, than any other blogger. I have 2 greyhounds, two cats and I share an 8-year old 50 pound sulcata tortoise with my sister. (hence my fascination with your Chuckwalla lizard, any way you can post his/her picture sometime?)

I must say that my favorite outfit you have ever posted is the Christmas party outfit. Good grief it takes cajones to dress like that and I loved it!!! However, my favorite part of any of your postings is your facial expressions. I love your haircut and you always look so “cheeky.” You seem like someone who would be very fun to grab a beer with. So, I visit your blog every day. I used to make comments, but felt like it was kinda silly to tell you if I liked or hated something, so I stopped.

Lain in Houston, TX

Raquelita said...

I have tried to spark more dialogue on my blog by asking questions, etc., but I have found that most comments are just positive comments about some aspect of my outfit. I think it's natural that people in the style blogging community want to be supportive of each other, but a lack of (constructive) criticism keeps our blogs bounded by artificial constructs.

As Emily said, we are all editing ourselves all the time in the blogosphere and the real world, but to try to make them closer to the same edit, I (and many other bloggers) have posted outfits that I think don't work, make me feel frumpy, etc.

Another factor that possibly inhibits my connection with people online is that I blog under a moniker because there is a chance that being associated with a style blog could hamper my career. It might not, but it might, and at this point I'm just not quite ready to take the chance.

Ria said...

I love those shoes you are wearing today or whenever this photo was taken. And as always love your scarves. :)

Darla said...

Commenting 2 days in a row, Yikes!

Thanks for the link, great article.

I really like the red top you are wearing - and the red hat of course.


i_b_erin said...

Nice to read more about you, and what you think. Yes, we only get a glimpse of the person online,as our world has gotten so tech.

I remind my son, who of course it totally into his cell phone, computer, ipod etc, to stop and remember to enjoy the people he is around, IN THE MOMENT! I do think that is one of the dangers in our computer aged world. Some people will loose or never even gain the skills to interact with those around us. (and wouldnt that be sad to miss out on life?)

Thanks for expanding your blog,I am enjoying it also. Take care, Thanks Audi!!

Kelly said...

Your post (and that article) highlight a lot of what I've been thinking about the past few years.

I really wasn't into the internet much at all as a recreational or making-friends sort of thing until mid-college. I got sick and was homebound for a couple months. I couldn't really make it out to see my friends, so I turned to online forums, blogs, etc. for company. Then even after I got better, I still kept those ties and I still enjoyed internet socializing. So I've kept at it.

After college, I moved back home. But I was away from my college friends, and all my hometown friends had moved away already, so I was basically back up here with very few friends. Again, the web was great in giving me a social outlet until I built more of a life up here, but I know that my online buddies aren't the same as the people who I hang out with on Saturday night. Nothing against them, it's just that you can so easily selectively filter other people AND your own personality, so you're not getting or getting the real deal. And that's OK - it's fine to have some friendships revolving around just a few topics. I love that I can talk fashion with my "blog friends" because there isn't really anyone in my offline life who is into that. And that's the part of my life I choose to share online. But if I didn't know a lot of people around me and solely depended on the web for socializing, that could become a large problem very fast.

Anonymous said...

Very very interesting stuff, I do think that it is possible to have a meaningful relationship online but that it can only go so far and must be supplemented by other interactions. For my undergraduate thesis, I examined social networking sites and while this isn't the main part of the research, I found that sites like Facebook helped relationships develop as they often allowed people to get to know each other and helped keep it alive by providing a free method of communicating with friends who have moved away. However everyone I interviewed for it also said that they also needed other forms of interaction outside of that environment to build a deep friendship and some were actually judgemental of people who spend lots of time on Facebook.

I do think fashion blogging is great because I get to discuss my interests in other like-minded people and it probably is a deeper conversation than in real-life because people do get to say their share rather than the conversation meandering along to a completely different topic. Also, I do have good friends who I met through just one interest so it can't be said that it's a bad way to start a friendship.

Millie said...

Another factor that possibly inhibits my connection with people online is that I blog under a moniker because there is a chance that being associated with a style blog could hamper my career. It might not, but it might, and at this point I'm just not quite ready to take the chance.

I think this is a really interesting point, and not just because I blog under a pseudonym because I'm worried that being seen as having a style blog will impact my ability to be Good Scientist. I'm new to this, so I don't know how well it'll inhibit any connections, but I am very... aware? about what I post. Before I post anything, I re-read it meticulously to make sure there's no details or descriptors that would make me more identifiable. I'm still me, though, and since my pseudonym has been a nickname for several years, it feels like an authentic part of my identity. There's a disconnect, but it's tricky to parse out what's intentional filtering and what's unintentional filtering to create a specific image or identity. There's a lot to think about with your comment, and I'll keep that thought rolling around as I keep blogging.

Sarah said...

Audi, I really agreed with your take on positive and negative feedback in your previous post.

And, as someone who writes a food blog, I have definitely noticed how heavily curated blogs can be, particularly in the food and fashion realms (possibly home too?). That careful, edited presentation can in some ways be really beneficial for the blogger--you can celebrate your successes, and motivate yourself to cook more or dress better or etc. But the editing can be kind of invisible from the outside.

I think the connection between these two points is that posting your failures, and being open to constructive criticism, can actually foster a more genuine interaction online. For example, a less than perfect outfit is something that readers can relate to, because we've all had days where we've gotten dressed and felt frumpy about it. Owning up to your (I mean a general you here, not you specifically) makes you seem more approachable, so people might be more likely to ask questions and get a dialogue going. And I think that a discussion that involves constructive criticism just requires a deeper, fuller level of engagement than "OMG love it!"

I really like the 1920s vibe you have going on in the outfit above. I have to say that if I saw that orange tunic in a store just all by itself I would almost surely pass it up because I wouldn't know what to do with it. I really like your creative way of layering and combining different garments in unexpected combinations. When you are shopping, are you able to instantly see the possibilities in a garment? And if so could you share with us some of your tricks for figuring out how you might wear things? I do a lot of thrift shopping, and sometimes I find myself drawn to an item but not sure how I'd wear it so I pass it up...and then regret it later. Other times I do purchase something and never manage to figure out how to wear it! (Then again sometimes a purchase turns out to be an unexpected staple.) I wish I had a better sense of how to evaluate things there in the moment. Any tips?

Sarah said...

I particularly loved this outfit! The hat is amazing and I love the dark orange combined with the navy blue skirt. I've been quite fascinated by your blog for some time now but for some reason, have never left a comment. Your style is inspiring, thought provoking, amusing (in a positive way!!) and just generally amazing! I live in Sweden and work as a violinist in a symphony orchestra here. You'd think that job would give me plenty of opportunity to be stylish and show off my inner diva. Sadly, no. Swedish classical musicians are notoriously boring creatures totally devoid of style (I'm generalizing, of course). They lean mainly towards jeans paired with something black, grey or beige and sensible shoes. Sometimes I just want to scream!!! Over the years I've, sadly, begun to conform to this way of dressing. I'd love to be bold and brave enough to dress like you! I'm from L.A. originally and when I lived there I had quite a collection of vintage clothing and amazing shoes. Here it's all about practicality and conforming. How dull is that!?!? I do have a stunning collection of high-heeled black concert shoes, most of them totally unwearable beyond the stage! It's my only creative outlet as far as style goes. Any brilliant tips or ideas about how to slowly work my way back into fashion fabulousness (both psychologically and practically)? Buying stylish clothes in the town I live is pretty hopeless but I am in L.A. pretty regularly and can shop there. Thanks for a great blog!

Gina said...

I absolutely covet that orange cloche!

enterrement de vie de célibataire said...

Oooh le beau chapeau.