by J.T. Ellison (with Kaye Barley)
I’ve been talking for some time about our virtual Montparnasse, the various groupings of artists who coexist online: encouraging, sharing, bickering, feuding and cheering for one another. It’s a precious resource, this institutional knowledge, and with the ease of use of the interwebs, we can all interact. The playing field is level when you’re virtual. It’s a world where readers, writers, librarians, booksellers, editors, publishers, agents, screenwriters, movie producers, actors, playwrights, artists, photographers, bloggers, critics and reviewers all float around, bumping into each other like little dust motes in an abandoned room.
And while there are curses to the Internet, something I’ll discuss next week, there are bonuses. Friendships blossom out of these interactions. Strangers become friends, and sometimes become enemies. Relationships bloom and fade, deals are made, books sold. It’s a very, very powerful medium, and as such is open to great abuse as well as scintillating intellectual largesse.
This is the first part in what I hope will be a series of essays about
our Virtual Montparnasse. Some will be by me, some will be by guests
who I think have a unique perspective on the subject, or embody the spirit of the global collective, the artistic social consciousness that I believe has been created by the Internet.
With that in mind, I hope you’ll welcome a dear friend of Murderati, Kaye Barley, while she sits in for me this week and opens the discussion about the Virtual Water Cooler we call our online community.
Take it away, Kaye!
I am tickled and honored to have been asked to drop in here by JT while she’s off gallivanting. I have no idea what the woman was thinking, do you? I’m no writer and my resume includes exactly one blogging gig besides this one. But, we all love her, and I for one don’t want to disappoint her so what the heck, let’s see where it takes us, and have some fun with it. Being invited places is always nice. But dang – being invited someplace to speak your opinion is just about as cool as it gets.
My one and only other blog gave me the opportunity to write about my experiences and feelings about smoking and quitting. That I was invited by the delightful women at The Stiletto Gang was a kick and I had a lot of fun. After reading what I had written, JT suggested I consider writing my impressions on how the internet compares to the figurative office water cooler. Smoking and quitting was a fairly easy thing for me to write about since it was all direct experience. After thinking about JT’s suggestion for this piece, and fretting about it a little, I realized how the two pieces are actually part of the whole.
The first thing that pops into my mind when I think about the office water cooler is probably the same image that pops into your heads as well. It’s the cartoon we’ve all seen for years – a group of people clustered around the cooler, little paper cones of water in hand, engaged in conversation and looking thoroughly entertained with themselves. We know, of course, they aren’t really there for the water. Nope, this is where everyone knows to come to meet up with co-workers and buddies to exchange a bit of gossip, catch up on office news, talk about last night’s ball game and/or night on the town, and, in some cases, over time, form significant friendships. It’s the place I might have gone for some words of encouragement while I was trying to walk away from my cigarettes.
There’s just not a lot of hanging out around a water cooler these days. Literally or figuratively. Offices that once had plenty of staff to get the necessary work done are now making do with a lot fewer people, which means not nearly as much free time to hang around and visit with co-workers. Not as many co-workers either. With the economy the way it is, and jobs disappearing the way they are – who can afford to be seen goofing off and hanging around the water cooler? Much easier to goof off and visit with friends over the internet. Hooray email, discussion groups, Facebook and blogs! The newest equivalent to that tired old water cooler. And an answer to an introvert’s prayers. Someone who may not have felt comfortable joining these water cooler groups may find their niche in an internet group. (A fun topic for another day, don’t you think?)
Some of us have worked long enough that we can easily remember when the water cooler hangout was a reality. And if, come Monday morning, you didn’t care about discussing football, you knew which office water cooler to avoid. There were days you just didn’t want to listen to that guy tell you why your favorite team lost again. Same deal with internet cruising, but better – no one can force you to listen to their opinion, ‘cause you’re in charge. You can even walk away without hurting anyone’s feelings. You are the master of your browser. Don’t like what that person’s got to say? Ta da – Hit that delete key! Or your scroll key, or, by gum – just leave. You can go anywhere you want to go, and meet a whole lot of people along the way. You can collect a group of like-minded souls to hang out with, and you can leave behind those you don’t want to spend time with. Leave one water cooler and find another. We’ve all managed to find our own special on-line water cooler. We’ve all met friends who may have started out as “virtual” friends, and who may in fact still be “virtual” in that we have not yet met face to face. But their importance in our lives has, in many instances, become every bit as important as the friends we see on a regular basis.
Those of us who hang around the internet a lot have learned that you bump into the same people quite often while you’re cruising around, which makes sense, of course. Those interested in books and reading are going to be hanging out at websites, blogs, and discussion groups that focus on books and reading. Folks who are interested in building treehouses probably run into the same group of people wherever they tramp around on-line. Bumping into the same people at different internet groups brings, at first, name recognition. After awhile you’re able to remember certain little things that go with the name – if they’re smart and funny, or dreary and sarcastic, if they seem kind, or tend to be grumpy and cynical. From this initial awareness, a casual acquaintance might blossom into a friendship. The casual camaraderie we experience over the internet has become a daily part of our lives.
There is, of course, the dark side of this relatively new social networking in the cyber world we’re all a part of, but for today, let’s focus on the positive.
We’ve all met people who have become quite dear, and quite important to us. I’m still a bit amazed and in awe of this phenomenon, and would enjoy hearing from some of you about your experiences with it and feelings regarding it all.
And to the Murderati group – Thanks so much for having me. You’re the best!
(Thanks for being here today, Kaye!)
Wine of the Week: From a Texas winery, in honor of all our friends in Houston and Galveston who are suffering this week – Pheasant Ridge Merlot