Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Such A Conversation Was Not To Be Had Merely Ten Years Ago

Web 1.0 Person:
What is a "Blog Crush"?

Belle: It's a crush you have on a blogger, despite never having seen him/her, heard the timbre of his/her voice, or otherwise interacted with him/her. It's usually long-distance, unconsummated, unrequited, and uneventful. The only activity that may occur is passive aggressive linking/commenting, on occasion graduating to the exchange of emails. Rarely, but rarely, would such an intellectual romance be carried out in real life--and if it does, then it may be subject to the vagaries and pitfalls of real life romance. Romancing The Blog is most often carried on in private imagination, where it is usually best.

Web 1.0:
How can you crush on someone you've never seen?

Belle: Have you ever heard of an "epistolary romance"? Don't you remember all those great love stories in Victorian novels? Don't you write billet doux? How, when soldiers marched to war they carried in their breast pockets loveletters from their sweethearts with the words "come back to me"? If love affairs can be started via the post, then why not via blog posts? Don't underestimate the power of the written word to spur affection, imagination, and irrationality. And really, I don't think this is all that different from online dating, or what you, Web 1.0 person, are used to--the newspaper personal, which is the old school inefficient way of doing that.

Web 1.0:
But you're only "reading" them--what they write may not be who they are; or be only one side of them. The authorial voice is never authentic nor complete. The authorial voice is full of deceit; the Artful Dodger as it were. Plus, you are not in love with the person. You are only in love with what they write. You love the words, not the author.

Belle: Dude, this is only a crush. Lighten up. Besides, haven't you ever had a crush on an author? Haven't you ever been so inspired, moved, enlightened by writing such that you felt a strange connection to its creator? I have all sorts of academic and literary crushes.

Web 1.0: Yes, but you'll likely never meet such authors. Such authors may even be dead. I, for example, may be passionately and perversely in love with Nabokov or Ted Hughes. I may also have a crush on Dan Kahneman. Doesn't mean that I'll ever actually correspond with either or have any chance of interaction, digital or in real life. You're talking about crushing on people who 1) actually exist, 2) you can easily get in touch with by commenting or emailing, and 3) potentially meet their real life person and compare it to their blog persona in those blog meet ups you weirdos do. It's much easier for the real world and the blogosopheric world to collide, with potentially disappointing results, when you crush on someone not imaginary or out-of-reach. Bloggers are not all that different from you or me--they just have different time-allocation priorities. Nobelists and poet laureates of England (where it actually means something) on the other hand, are worthy of long-distance worship. What you are doing is apotheosizing the mundane.

Belle: But you highlight the danger and deliciousness of the permeable barrier between the online and real-life worlds: whereas in the past time and space were insurmountable barriers to intellectual love, now such love affairs of the mind can be carried out at least in some real-life, real-time form. I may be too timid to approach someone I like in real life, but my fingers are bolder on the keyboard than they would be on someone's arm.

Web 1.0: Yes, danger indeed! The danger of falling for someone not-real, and yet peculiarly elevated; the danger of flirting...with danger! You don't even know this person, and yet you would risk thought and emotion on them! What if they're married, crazy, or just creepy?

Belle: That is why I have ethical codes for blog crushes, just as I would for real life crushes. No crushing on obviously attached bloggers. Reject the epistolary advances of all married or otherwise creepy bloggers who obsessively link or email you. And are we going into economic analysis of the crush? Crushes are inherently irrational uses of thought and emotion, as is most of love, unless you are so outcome-oriented that you think such emotions and experiences must necessarily produce something of utility, e.g. sex or children. I am far too romantic and non-utilitarian to think like that. Crushes are fun, if profligate uses of time. And blog crushes are no less real than someone you pass by on the street and happen to fancy, irrationally, merely based on their appearance and mien. Remember how Petrarch fell in love with Laura? What about coup de foudre? There's an entire literature on love at first sight, which is highly specious. I would say that the myth of love/lust at first sight is what inspires at least 1/4 of all love poetry.

Web 1.0: But you're not having love at first sight. At least that is corporeal and chemical and possibly real. What you're doing is obsessively reading someone and forming an imagined construction of them. They may not be as awesome as you think.

Belle: Probably not. But that's the nice, low-cost thing about blog/intellectual/academic crushes. They don't really have to live up to your expectations. And besides, most of the time, bloggers put so much of themself into their blog, that unless it is purely dry, non-personal blogging, you are going to get the equivalent of their entire personality in all of its wonderful weirdness. Their intellectual obsessions, opinions, quirks, hobbies, habits, way of thinking, writing--it is a more complete view of a person than any passing glance could give you, unless those are some seriously powerful pheromones. In my mind, they have more basis than the passing fancy.

Web 1.0: So you would actually read someone's entire blog, plumbing the archives, just because you like the way the write and want to read more of it, hoping to get a better idea of what they might be like in real life on the off chance that you will correspond, on the super off-chance you'll meet, and on the off-the-charts chance that you'll be satisfied that they live up your expectations, knowing that they probably will not? You would spend all that time?

Belle: Yes. Why not? I spend a lot of time writing my own blog, why should I not spend some time reading those of others whose writing I like as much as any novel or academic text? I've read entire oeuvres by authors, papers by academics, and love letters of suitors--why wouldn't I read the archives, and daily posts, of someone's blog if I enjoy it? Why wouldn't I consider writing them (at first linking and commenting, for I am shy) if I would consider writing a fan letter (I wouldn't, but there are those who do), letter of interest in someone's work, or billet doux? It's no different, but it's digital, and that's the only reason why you think it's weird.

Web 1.0:
I still don't get it. Nor do I understand why you stay up late each night to blog, despite your work, personal life, and other responsibilties. I don't get why you do what you do just for the people who choose to read you.

Belle: And you never will, nor will you ever really get me.

Okay, actually this conversation never happened--but don't you think that such a conversation should occur somewhere and between some two people? And actually, I currently don't have any blog crushes, nor am I involved in any epistolary romance or otherwise imaginary relationship. But it wouldn't be unheard of. And it definitely shouldn't be discouraged.

I don't know what inspired me to write the above defense of the intellectual/academic/blog crush, other than that it happens all the time, yet I haven't read many explanations of why it's no more or less justified than other mythologies of love. I'm not a big believer in love at first sight, soul mates, or "the one," but I do believe in the power of the written word to inspire certain emotions in people of a certain nature.