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Thursday, May 06, 2004

Supported to Death

Unlike the old usenet, or even mailing lists, where everyone is kind of thrown into one pot, the new trend of comment-enabled online journals gives everyone their very own channel. And with so many channels out there, all accessible world-round, there's no end of room for participants to self-select, to find the niches and corners they relate to or have something to contribute to or take from, and to simply leave and forever forget the corners they don't like.

Likewise, each channel author can pretty much select their own audience. With so many channels to choose from, it rarely takes more than a swift admonishment to chase nay sayers away. And for the lurkers who stick around anyway because they enjoy harassing people, you can always disable their posting access. And heck, for the people who are just trying to help but have opinions that make you feel bad, you can always disable their posting access too.

But mostly your audience will tune itself for you, because it's your channel, after all, and they know they're just guests on it. Want to tattoo a Tweety Bird on your forehead? Great idea! Why, I had a cousin who tattooed a shoulder over his heart, and loved it. Never mind that I think it's a terrible idea--it's your channel and that's not what you want to hear. Having relationship troubles because your dog is possessed by aliens? What a coincidence, my sister has exactly the same problem. I'll point her to your journal. Never mind that I think you're a lunatic--it's your channel and that's not what you want to hear. What you want from your audience is support.

Some of your audience is there because they find you interesting--whether as a guru or bug under glass doesn't matter, they'll treat you the same. Others are there because they've made the same idiotic mistakes you are, and really nothing makes them feel better than to help you grow the club. Others might be there because they think you have a cute ass (or that you might have a cute ass if only you'd ever post a picture of yourself), or perhaps a lot of money, or maybe just because you've got such a big friends list already you must be important and good to know. And of course, there are the obligatory real-life friends, maybe some family, and the government agent just doing his job. But they all know, or at least learn pretty quickly, that they're there to support you, in whatever you do, because after all that's what we're all needing more of in life.

So it's like your very own Yes man, only it's like thirty of them (or maybe hundreds if you're really cute, semi famous, a sufficiently good writer, or sexually explicit). And better yet, it's pick-and-choose your Yes men of the day, because the ones that think you're completely nuts today just won't say anything at all, or just something witty and completely tangential. (Yes, there's a way to earn points every day if you try.) And the really convincing thing is some of these people you know aren't Yes men in real life, so maybe they really do just all agree with you.

And in some sense they do, because they're not lying to you, per se. Even those who say things completely contrary to what they think aren't exactly lying, because what they're saying to you is simply "I support you", and they mean it (whatever their end goals), even if the words they had to use to tell you this aren't exactly the words they would have used to express their actual opinion on the topic matter, which is another matter entirely. It's your channel, and they're here to support you.

Really, it's quite a liberating blank check. It solves a lot of potential sticky emotional problems. Have any doubt that you deserve credit for any of your achievements? Your LJ audience doesn't. Have any doubt that your parents or ex or the government or space aliens are responsible for all of your problems? Your LJ audience doesn't. Try it--blame space aliens for your problems at your last job. Give your best arguments, and don't give up. Censor anyone who doesn't come around to your truth, and throw positive emotional candy to all who support you, and while it may take a little churning of your friends list, you'll find the support you need.

Of course, there is an up side (for those of you who realized the above isn't entirely up). Often the world can be a harsh and stupid and random place, after all, and ideas or situations that really call for support sometimes don't get it. But that's when you really want an audience who knows you well enough, and cares about you enough, to cut through the fog and help bring out the truth--the real truth--because the truth is always your best support. Generally the truth is things just aren't as bad as they're looking to you at the moment. More, most things that are truly as bad as they look can often be written off and replaced with something better anyway. And for the things that really are just bad and not going to change or go away, the sooner you accept that and learn to work with it, the better.

But, of course, the blank check of a personal emotional support channel bears little resemblance to that. It is here to defer pain, to help you scoot it away from your ego and place it somewhere else (even if that somewhere else is another part of you--sometimes the most convincing exchange). And, the unwritten theory goes, in the absence of pain you will finally be at ease to see and think clearly, and only then will you truly resolve your issues, find your path, attain enlightenment, get laid, or whatever your pot of gold is.

Really, we should just abolish emotional pain. What's it do other than make us feel bad, anyway?

Then again, maybe the personal emotional support channel is like The Girl Who Feels No Pain, seemingly normal in every way but for the lack of negative feedback. Over the course of time, she eventually scratched her own eyes out and is now mostly blind.

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com