During my recent, longer-than-expected absence from the virtual world I’ve been keeping busy in an idle kind of way. For those who are curious, my time can be briefly summarised as being spent enjoying a mix of wandering and pondering, thinking and drinking, scheming and dreaming.
One thought that has occupied some of my attention is the way I interact with people online and how that differs from my real-life communications. I feel very, very fortunate to have met or spoken to the wonderful people that I’ve stumbled across or who have found me through this blog or through Twitter (and I’ve missed you all in recent weeks).
I know that online communications often encourage superficial, casual interactions and certainly the random, spontaneous engagements I’ve had with all manner of people I would not normally encounter has often been interesting, and sometimes more than just a little inspirational. However, if I’m to be true to myself (and that’s probably a very good thing to be), I have to admit that developing casual relationships with an ever-growing number of acquaintances is not really my style. That is a philosophy which holds true to both my real life and online self, but perhaps a philosophy that I have not been applying all that consistently.
I would much prefer to have a meaningful conversation with three people with whom I share common interests or a common standing, rather than a meaningless or frustrating conversation with two hundred people who I share little or nothing in common with. The rule of quality over quantity definitely applies, and perhaps becomes even more relevant to me as each year passes by.
I thoroughly enjoy the thoughts, laughter, feelings and words that I’ve shared over the years with readers of this blog both here and in your own virtual homes – and this is something that I will continue to cherish in the years to come as something very special.
Twitter has also been a really fun and fascinating environment which has allowed me to meet another bunch of truly wonderful people. However, somewhere along the way a nagging thought has been slowly and steadily growing, a feeling that as I follow more and more people, and have more and more people follow me that I’m losing my ability to talk in a meaningful way with those people with whom I share a real connection. I feel that I’ve been gradually diluting myself and my attention – spreading myself too thin, until I reached a point where all my communications felt like they may have become meaningless. This is not who I am, and certainly not who I want to seem to be online.
So I’ve come to a Jerry Maguire moment (a film which for some reason resonates strongly and gives me much to reflect on). While the words of Jerry’s mission statement relate directly to the business of sports management, I have always felt there is a much wider relevance, particularly in light of my recent reflections…
‘The answer is fewer clients. Less dancing. More truth. We must crack open the tightly clenched fist of commerce and give a little back for the greater good. Eventually revenues will be the same, and that goodness will be infectious. We will have taken our number oneness and turned it into something greater. And eventually smaller will become bigger, in every way, and especially in our hearts.
Let us be honest with ourselves.
Let us be honest with them.
Forget the dance. Focus…’
It would probably be much easier to just insert the entire mission statement here and have those words much more eloquently communicate exactly what it is that I am struggling to express. I suppose what I am really trying to say is that I want something more than just to collect more and more followers, friends or acquaintances. I want to have something deeper than simply having a huge number of people to virtually interact with or to feel validated about the person that I am by ‘talking at’ or being ‘listened’ to by a huge number of people. The reality of the situation is that the vast majority of these people are probably not listening to me and will probably never be interested in engaging with me in any personal way. I’m not wishing this to sound like a complaint or a plea for attention, simply to say that people develop online relationships in different ways and with different purposes. What works for one person will not necessarily work for me.
I also don’t want this to sound all serious, doom-and-gloom, and overly-analytical. It’s not as if I want every conversation to be deep and meaningful, all I hope for is that the interactions I have with people online are able to be more personal than impersonal. Recently I’ve felt that I’ve muddied the waters of my followers with people that I follow simply for the sake of following rather than with the intent of pursuing interesting or meaningful conversation. This has meant that I’ve no doubt missed out on many opportunities to better engage with those people that I want to know more of or share more with. My Twitter feed had become too voluminous and too unmanageable, so I found that rather than catching up with what people were up to and what they were thinking I was having to just scroll over the surface and give their words nothing more than a cursory glance. And that brings me to the subject of another thought that I’ve been reflecting on – the expectation, or rather, the pressure to be predictable and one-dimensional in an online world.
This is something that I’ve particularly found true of myself on Twitter and to a lesser extent on my blog. I do not have a singular focus or interest in my life. In other words I am not particularly obsessed or focussed on any one aspect or any one thing, but I’ve felt a pressure to represent myself as a person who is always one way or another – never a combination of many things. Perhaps being a generalist rather than a specialist is not a good way to be, but it certainly is a reality for me.
I used to worry about my lack of a consistent theme or subject on my blog, as many people will tell you that it is important for readers to be able to ‘expect the expected’. Perhaps my absences from the blog from time to time can be blamed to some degree on this concern that my words are too random and the things I write about are too unrelated to any one central idea. I have slowly come to realise that I do in fact have a theme on QuietPaws – a theme of whatever interests me at any given time. Sometimes I want to reflect on my place in the world, sometimes I want to talk about movies or books that I’ve enjoyed, other times it feels like enough to just share a photograph. I aim for consistency in my inconsistency.
However this tendency towards broad interests has caused me some regret. For instance, I met some fantastically talented writers and artists on Twitter who I really enjoyed talking to, but pretty soon I think they discovered that I do not (and cannot) just tweet beautiful words about the world around me. I indulge in all other kinds of conversations with myself and with others about all manner of fripperies, trivialities and passing distractions. And so for this reason or perhaps for a whole host of reasons they chose to unfollow me. I was sad to lose these people as followers and subsequently became a little self-conscious about what I was tweeting about. I’ve since come to the realisation that much as I would like to be a certain kind of person with a certain kind of narrow focus, the reality is that I am not. There is too much in this world that holds my interest to limit my verbal and written communications to a select one or two topics of conversation.
Perhaps you’d like further examples, perhaps not. For those that are interested in what I mean or who I am, here is a brief introduction to my multi-dimensional self:
I like to write. I like to read. I like animals of all kinds. I don’t eat meat. I like shopping for pretty things. I like buying books. I like wearing dresses. I like the fashion of the 1920s, 1950s and 1960s. I like The Beatles. My favourite Beatles member alternates between John Lennon and George Harrison. I would like to know what the world would be like with John Lennon still in it. I like new music and old music. I like the charm of Robbie Williams. I like to have a clean home, but accept that my home may not always be tidy. I like plants. I like shoes. I’d like to own more pairs of high heels but worry that I can’t walk all that well in them. I like the sound that typewriters make, especially if each key requires a bit of pressure to reach the paper. I have started to buy fewer CDs and more digital music. I like rabbits and woodland creatures. I seem to be building a collection of small white animal statues. I find wolves appealing in some way (not in a tacky, mystical way). I love the way that art challenges me, moves me, and connects with me. I would love to have a well-worn French accent by the time I’m fifty. The thought of getting older terrifies me. I’d like to be less materialistic and more minimalistic, but seem to be losing the battle at present. Medical problems related to the nose and teeth tend to freak me out. I cry when I laugh, which can be embarrassing and frustrating (especially if I’m wearing makeup). I don’t wear makeup all that often, but would like to wear it more often. I think that Anjelica Huston is incredibly beautiful. The first book I read cover-to-cover in one sitting was Pinquo by Colin Thiele (and I cried, a lot). I like to wave hello to horses. I would love someone to sponsor me to travel the world and be inspired. I like secondhand furniture with character. I can’t stand to see people litter or be cruel to other living things in any way. I have recycled for many years. I think if I was to be an alien, I would most likely be an empath. I struggle to contain my emotion if I see someone else is upset – if they cry, I’ll probably cry too. I often feel that maybe I’m too emotional or too soft. Other times I feel I should share my emotions more. I like the sound of rain falling on a corrugated iron roof. I like being fit and love to run, but I really should run more often. I used to love getting home from school to a freshly baked chocolate cake. I like to change my hairstyles quite often. I never feel like I get enough sleep. I think Emma Thompson is amazingly talented. I like some tattoos, but not others. I would like to make a difference in the world. I think my husband is amazing but may not tell him that often enough. I love the writing of Paul Auster, Truman Capote, Joan Didion and the words of Carson McCullers in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. I can obsess over something for ages, and then when that particular opportunity presents itself I can lose interest. I find Nicolas Cage’s new teeth incredibly distracting. I haven’t quite made up my mind about how I feel about writer’s festivals. Sometimes I get really angry. I like the way that grass feels underfoot. If I don’t care about what I’m doing, I disengage completely. I would like to live somewhere cold, particularly if I could escape the 9 to 5 day job. I like to read philosophy, but feel like I need to dedicate more time to it to really think and understand it. When I was young I thought I might grow up to be either a ballerina or a veterinarian…and so on.
So where has all this thought taken me? Firstly, it has brought me back to the blog with a renewed level of commitment and enthusiasm. Secondly, it has made me aware that I need to change the way that I’ve been using Twitter and other online networks. Both of these directions forward leave me feeling liberated and refreshed.
All that remains is for me to thank you dear reader, for indulging me as I’ve worked my way through this overly convoluted thought process. Hopefully I haven’t succeeded in boring you senseless, and if that’s the case I hope you shall return for another visit soon so that we can discuss something extremely important or something which may seem very insignificant in a meaningful way.