A blog seems to me a curious thing. One day you set up shop and natter away. The next nobody looks over your shoulder while you do so. You can write in public, but there’s no public. You urinate in the park without getting caught.
Then, for no apparent reason, someone stumbles upon your blog, smells it, kicks it, and thinks something that she probably will never share with you. There’s something intimate about this rendezvous: a tryst without touching, a closeness without communicating that is pared only with the most alienating, friction-free voyeurism. Only think: For the first time in history, we in the west can publicize almost anything about ourselves or the world so that nothing is shocking, you can read whatever you like, and we can know each other without getting to know each other. The illusion of freedom, of control, of hands-off steering?
But this is not my main reason for writing. Ah, the blog and with it goes such meandering! Strike off in any direction and see whether anyone will follow… Probably not, but there you are.
Today, it is you that I’d like to reflect upon, you that I’m after. A blog seems to be about me, but then it also says a great deal about you. Who are you, my lone passerby?
Statistics gathered by WordPress give me some vague notion. The rest is armchair speculation. But then when have I ever reigned in my imagination? Observe!
As if in a police line-up, I’ve identified and profiled four different you’s, guarded but denuded. First there is the Trawler. You searched for something–say, “cognitive-bias modification” or “Saul Frampton Montaigne” or “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” and then stumbled unwittingly upon my site and links and words. I’m not sure what you expected to find here, but neither are you, I venture. A small cadeaux? You got a synopsis (or is it a synapse?), a link to an article, or an off-track story. Was that what you were after? Did you stay a while? Were you disappointed from the first or only afterward? Probably just a little all the while? I think so. My hunch is that, after trawling and stumbling and skimming and squinting, you put the key back on the metal peg in the pantry and closed the door softly behind you. Very respectful that. Thank you.
Up next: The Gawker, a new figure to me because I’ve not–yet–written about Lindsay Lohan (until now) or about the latest Yahoo-y celebrity. You, dear sir or madam, seem to thrive on minor spectacles, a little carnage perhaps but not too much. Yesterday, I wrote about how being laid-back was not a virtue, and the article went micro-viral. Many saw the chum, took the bait, probably saw scribblings too philosophical for their taste, mumbled, “Piss off,” under their breath. Not much of a show after all. Maybe you learned a thing or two. Or disagreed tout court. Or went back to Craigslist or Reddit foraging. But then I really don’t know: you left no traces behind.
Behind the third door: The Peruser. In former days when there were book stores and cafes, you hung around, thumbing through Sartre. You, with the curiosity of a child, you who would love to meander through Borges’s infinite library, you who stop the car and tell your kids to follow with their eyes–there! now there!–an eagle just now passing overhead. How do I know you? Unlike the Gawker, you click on this and that. You want to know something about me, get some idea what my life’s like, want to feel some connection to me, to put what I’m writing in some broader context, to see whether we would, in some other age, have liked to sit across from each other and discussed the Revolution then raging in France. And what would we have made of the world dying and being reborn around us then? And what do we make of it now, with ignorant armies clashing by night or daring revolutionaries singing in harmony?
Most surprising of all the fourth: The Unexpected Friend. You came out of nowhere (well then, so did I, I suppose), and then you didn’t contact me because you saw that we “liked” the same brand of Kangaroos but because we shared some deep commitment to the life of the mind. Something dispassionate and disinterested, some fellow feeling, some unnameable quality drew you in. Before post-modernism, before irony made us hipsters, we would have called that elusive quality sincerity. Let’s call it that now and really mean it and not feel the need to wink when we say it.
These, then, are the cast of characters thrown up by the internet, this my bazaar where strangers, seeking they-know-not-what, pass each other by in the night. The paradox is moving, if not unsettling: Apart from the Unexpected Friends, the rest of us, the lion’s share I mean, as if in some peculiar, irreducibly complex, indescribable dance, finding new ways of interacting that do not involve touching.
Are we satisfied with this new dispensation? And what would it mean, today, to touch?