I’ve been letting this video incubate for about the last six days, after happening to catch it on another writer’s blog last week. It’s an absolutely fascinating watch—and the truths that it taps into are nothing short of legion—though it’s really gotten jammed between the sticky folds of my brain in consideration how it relates to what I’m doing, with this little patch of threadbare e-real-estate… and, as an extension of that, how it speaks to the larger culture of blogging, as a whole.
Travel is, in particular, a polarizing topic, and its affiliated bloggeral tends to reflect that. In simply scanning and skimming through the keyword’s feed brings up a dozen different iterations of the same topic: the photographic approach, the truth-seekers, the casual tourist, the “event traveler” and the gonzo acolyte… the flavors are rangy, but the basic purpose remains the same:
We are all creating a narrative for ourselves.
Some fervently, some patiently, some in varying denominations of commitment and casual interest… but regardless of what the temperament might be, the fixation with the tell remains tantamount. It’s the axis on which we all spin, and the one thing that binds us together, in a common set of stitches.
However, I often find myself feeling as if it also contradicts itself in a fashion which is both fierce, and fundamental.
This has much to do with the entire idea behind travel. The act itself is as much an issue of replacement as it is exploration: we seek to swap out the mundane for the unknown, the routine for the unexpected, the cast and trappings of a familiar life with the new and the strange. For something so complex, it’s also a wholly personal undertaking: the only way that people tend to know where we’ve been and what we see is when we feed them a steady stream of road stories, photographs, status updates and chatter over a coffee catch-up. As with all narratives, we want—or, more appropriately, require—an audience, in order to migrate the value of our experiences from the internal to the external.
It’s sharing. Or it’s supposed to be. But the baffling bit—for me—is how very seldom that circuit is actually completed, in the most basic sense. Sure: we give and put forth and pontificate and update and “Like” and “Follow” and occasionally even take two seconds to pat someone on the back for broadening our wireless horizons, but how often do we actually—and really, and truly—have a chance to share our narrative with someone that we don’t know?
One of the things that Sherry’s treatise on this topic illustrates—for me, and the misfiring soup that exists within my head—is how mesmerizing this series of checks and balances really becomes. In the past, I’ve found myself going blow-for-blow with it on a daily basis: mulling over readership numbers, zealously sizing up other people’s blogs for their “stat lines” and using it as a slapdash platform for judgment, gnashing my fingertips and teeth when someone drifting about in the e-ther doesn’t immediately “LIKE” my latest ramblefest. At no point do I entertain what is ultimately the most crucial line of self-inquiry that any self-respecting blogger can present to themselves:
What have I done to deserve it?
Historically, this is a question that I’ve had no interest in posing to myself. Doing so requires a hot shot of humility, stoppered up in an injectable dose of medicinal-strength reality: look too hard at the question itself, and you find yourself having to admit that the idea of the collective audience isn’t absolute, nor is it a given. You start to recognize that the odds of someone arbitrarily plugging into your work out of sheer happenstance or the chance blip-flicker results of a Google search are becoming fewer and further between, and that the metric itself has gone all squiffy: the fundamental belief that there is a Great and Untapped Audience out there—whose sole interest is in absorbing other people’s “sharing,” like some sort of blog-based dark matter—starts to carry with it the sweet, powder-dusted taste of naivete’.
Instead, the principle of basic social media economics emerges: if you want to take out, you need to put back in.
And—like Turkle—I’m at a loss, when I consider the “hows” and “whys” and “whens” of this becoming the status quo, as far as the digital status quo is concerned. We pine for more eyes by which to measure the value of what we have to say, but—in doing so—overlook the basic math that such a quantity entails: the more we take from others in terms of their attention*, the less we seem to be inclined to give back. “Sharing” becomes “performance.” “We” becomes “they.” Fissures form around the margins, and—just like that—a blog breaks free from the collective continent, and begins to drift off towards a vague state of isolation. This idea of “currency” is even stranger, when it comes to writing about travel: if the fundamental purpose of pushing past our psychological and cultural borders is to bring the distant closer to home, then how are we serving this by striving to become a bunch of nodes, clustered behind a one-way mirror of “telling, without hearing?”
Mind you, I harbor no ill will against such success: if it works, if it fulfills the purposes of the narrative in play, and if it makes the person who enjoys it happy, then the negativity doesn’t find purchase.
It’s just that when it’s all we—the Grand, Unified, All-Inclusive We—strive for, we may miss the simplest joy that a blog can bring. The sharing, as a means of not simply pressing for reads, views, clicks and validation, but as a way to bridge distance and time, the way that we often strive to when we’re actually stepping onto an airplane and bound for parts unknown.
But most importantly, you’ll miss the opportunity to truly share: that person’s story, a kind word, a chance interaction, a reminder that we’re not all adrift in the murky, colorless ether of the digital domain and a vote against the myth that sharing begins and ends with what someone else’s attention can do for us.
So, if you’ve happened upon this post today—and you’ve got a moment to spare—click on the next one that catches your eye. Leave a supportive comment. Follow a blog that you aren’t naturally inclined towards. Take a swing at pretense itself, and then pat yourself on the back for doing so.
Because, really? When it comes down to it… if we’re all “sharing” in the colors that Turkle’s painted in this presentation… then nobody truly is.