We are on the alert for something we are ready to respond to. It might be a response to an email, a first definition of a strange word, a summary of a book mentioned in an article we've just read, it might be, as it sometimes is for me, a idle check on how many people are reading these words.
When we are on the alert for something we are ready to respond to, we are in the midst of a game with known rules. We are not being passive or stupid. But sometimes we overplay our games, and use them as a distraction from more important things in life.
When we read on the internet, we are greeted with a friendly language. The friendliness signals to us informality, that not too great a demand is going to be made on our attention. That it is like a chance joyful meeting on the street, completely open but both of us are on our way somewhere else.
Friendliness works in another way too, and this is what I have been thinking about this morning. The problem with using the internet, email and other messaging, social networking, is that the friendliness is limited to relations between strangers.
This friendliness however is part of a game. It is not really open and democratic. If you want many people to listen to you, you must establish yourself as the expert in your subject, whatever it is. You must network to do this. You must build your audience step by step among strangers. You might then get to the top, where you'll obtain a kind of monopoly status without even intending it. This is because it is been decided that you have something more to say than is customarily said between people who meet by chance on the street.
In one's social life, there is a continual battle to hold one's positions in whatever roles one has been given and taken on. Father, Husband, Employee, etc. The relations between strangers become practice sessions. Searching the internet, using social networks are likewise practice sessions for the real work of rising out of the democracy of game players who are all talking and playing the game of counting the responses, uneasy when they don't arrive or are of the wrong kind.
We hold the monopoly position among our friends, family, and jobs when we have established ourselves as experts in managing our family and social relations, at doing our jobs.
Needless to say, this is not how things should be.
I want people to read what I am writing here. I could follow expert advice, go to web sites on the subjects I write about, leave comments, put my site on lists, generate responses by responding myself.
But what if people cannot respond to what I write? Not because it is impossible, but because they don't give themselves time. The kind of writing that obtains the monopoly status, that wins that game, is the kind that plays by the rules of that game.
In the game, we are on the alert for something we are ready to respond to.
We need the response because we are in the game. In both private and public life we are playing the same game, aiming for that monopoly status, to distinguish ourselves from the multitude of talkers without listeners to become the one who talks and is listened to.
We don't have to be in the game. It is not really a friendly game, after all. The friendliness is all on the surface, it is in fact an instruction and warning not to get informal, follow your own path, if you want to do well in the game.
The paradox is that language which seems to be democratic, which published without cost seems to be free of censorship and outside restraint, is itself the restraint on democratic participation. If you have to write in a certain way to be read, and you are playing the game of being read, then you are restrained by the rules of the game. Everyone is in movement with you playing the game, and they also want to win. They have time only to see how well they are doing; at least the focus of their attention is more on that question than on the truth or usefulness of what they are currently reading or looking for to read.
We all have to have more patience, learn to sit through more complex arguments while our minds are on their hair triggers, never completely escaping from the monopoly game, never losing the fear of failing to get to the top of the heap, of not being recognized as experts in private roles and so losing wife, friends, jobs.
In other words, the problems with how we use the internet, social networking, email and other messaging is the problem of how we live our lives in general.
If we are to be able to concentrate on what we read, our friendliness has to change from that of the chance encounter on the street to encounters between real friends whose enjoyment of each others company carries them through complex argument and gives them the patience they need.
The paradox again is that truly friendly language will not necessarily express itself in informal style. Sometimes friendliness of words shows itself by their success in the struggle to say something clearly. Readers can learn to see friendliness in the writer's concern for the others understanding, in the work he has done to make reading easier, but not too easy, only as easy as is possible given the difficulty of the subject.
If this is so, the cost free publishing of our times is not necessarily going to help us politically until we stop thinking as democrats and start thinking as friends. Democrats are all equal as readers and writers, but are also all equal in insecurity of roles, equal in being hunters and seekers of better places and persons, all equal in playing a monopoly game which could not be less democratic.
When I write, as I have already written and some of you have read and understood, I hope, I know I have met all or almost all of my readers personally. I know they read these words, and know they are capable of reading these words, only because they know me. The knowledge is absolutely necessary to overcome the outside demands, the readiness to pounce on what will be useful in the seemingly essential business in life of winning our games. But if they know me, if they like me, they read with that knowledge and liking of me and sometimes can get to the end of the piece.