Tag Archives: illusions

The illusions, fantasies and occasional uses of social networking

It’s a funny set of places, the social networking sites. People posting updates on the most mundane developments in their lives, photos of their food, commentary on TV programs. You can ‘support causes’ and sign petitions for just about everything, creating the illusion of something meaningful done. You can have hundreds of facebook friends but not really know anyone, creating an illusion of social contact. Then there’s the option of hiding behind a fake name and trolling the hell out of your victims. Oh, and there are games. We spend a lot of time on social network sites, time we will never get back and so much of what it gives is illusory.

I have, I case you were wondering, twitter, google+, linkedin and facebook accounts. I’m also on goodreads. Feel free to attempt to connect with me on any of those, although in practice facebook is the only place I reliably show up and interact with people. I have real friends there, people I actually know, or will know, or want to know, and that helps. I find that compared to the general assessments of social networking (as above) I have a pretty good experience of it. This is because my network doesn’t deliver many food photos and random trivia. I get pointers to really good articles I would not otherwise have found, and I get to find out about what some really interesting people are thinking and doing. In that way, I get a lot out of it.

Of course one of the things people use this stuff for is selling their work, big companies included. How much promo can one person take? Speaking as an author, occasional publisher and avid reader, nothing depresses me more than some author I’ve never heard of, banging on endlessly about their book. The egroups used to be full of similar stuff. I know there’s a theory that we can all go 50 Shades with our products, but maundering on about them isn’t the answer. Nobody cares. This can come as a bit of a shock, but one of the lessons the social networks have the power to deliver is that most of the time, most people do not give a shit about that thing you thought really mattered. When they do, it can be a humbling, overwhelming and powerful sort of moment, but that tends to pass. In the great noise of the internet, we might start to see our small place in the grand scheme of things, or we might equally end up with an inflated ego.

In practice the social networks are a lot like the rest of real life in that what you get out depends on what you put in and who you associate with. It can be really good. That a lot of it is tedious, pointless and time wasting, is simply down to the people who use it.

As a Druid who does not have many other Druids in close geographical proximity (when you walk or cycle, ten miles away isn’t close) I appreciate the contact of being online. It’s enabled me to stay at least a little bit in touch with friends and to learn more about the Steampunk community. For this, I am very grateful. I know I’d feel more isolated without it. Not all of us can get to where the likeminded people are. But if there are real people to interact with, better not to be on facebook, I think. My Druidry calls on me to go outside, but it’s easy to hold an illusion that time playing with online Druid communities is somehow proper Druid time. Mostly it isn’t. Or it’s a pale shadow of the real thing. It worries me how readily many people seem to have replaced real world contact with social networking though. Locked away in our little rooms with our little boxes, typing words to people we’ve never met… The scope for fantasy and illusion is vast. The unfortunate outcomes of this show up on a regular basis but the hurt caused is all too real.

I know that the internet has changed how I think. I’m watching myself for good ideas to blog about, and good thoughts to share over the ether. Twenty years ago, this didn’t feature in my mind. I lived and thought differently. I’m aware that social network sites can be addictive, particularly in times of boredom or loneliness. They tend to perpetuate the problems rather than solving them. I don’t think we’ve begun to understand the social implications of what we’re doing. Or the psychological implications, for that matter. It’s a mass retreat from the real world. And yes, the real world is not a great place just now, but we aren’t going to fix that by signing a petition on facebook.
Jo over at http://www.octopusdance.wordpress.com has committed to spending one day a week free from modern communications devices. Obviously I know about this because she facebooked it… but the idea is well worth a thought. Spending less time doing it can, if nothing else, improve the quality of what you bring to it.

I may not be blogging for a couple of days, I have a lot of real world stuff to do. Gods of trains and weather permitting, I shall be in Northampton Waterstones for a book signing on Saturday and then doing family stuff on Sunday.


Nameless Dread

One of the things I both love and am frustrated by in Lovecraft’s work is that tendency towards ‘things too terrible to describe’. I know from my own experience that he’s right, in that the nameless dreads are always the scariest ones, but as a reader, I want to know a bit more about how dreadful it is, because I want to be entertained, not driven mad with terror.

The craziest forms of terror have so much to do with uncertainty, for me. Give me a problem, a challenge, a wound, anything, and I will endeavour to deal with it. Give me the possibility that in a week’s time I’m going to be put through something awful, and then I really suffer. In face of the uncertainty, I can imagine all kinds of terrible things, and I have a really good imagination. One really terrible thing that I actually have to go through is often less bad than all the imaginary things I am capable of doing to myself.

Name the dread and it’s not quite so scary.

Humans like to be able to name and quantify things. I think it gives us an illusion of control. Once we know what it’s called, or where it came from, a thing feels a bit more manageable. Having terrible weather events? Well, that’s climate change, isn’t it, so we’re all sorted, know what that means. Only we don’t. Calling the nameless dread in the cellar ‘Bob’ does not do much to reduce the chances that it’s going to open a portal to hell and eat your soul. But ‘Bob’ is labelled and feels like it’s under our control, and not really a nameless dread at all.

We stick little labels on the kinds of human behaviour that destroys and defiles. The labels don’t actually do anything, and only come into play after the event. Yes, it’s all well and good calling someone a psychopath after they’ve been out to play with an axe, but it doesn’t change what they’ve done. I think we’re prone to creating illusions of control and influence in this way, and it doesn’t help.

There are a lot of nameless dreads out there. The unknown, unimaginable things that might be waiting to tear your life apart. You don’t need Lovecraft’s Ancient Ones to drive yourself mad with fear. An hour or two of listening to and thinking about news broadcasting really should be sufficient.

What scares me most about people is how complacent we get. We name our nameless dreads and then we just assume they’re going to play nicely. Climate change. Global warming. Extinction. Deforestation. Pollution. They are bigger than we like to think. Nastier. Less understood, less known than we like to believe. We might be better off imagining that we have indeed unleashed a horde of ravening elder gods upon the world, at least that way we might be frightened into action rather than doing our best impression of a zombie apocalypse.


Breaking your reality

I’ve been through it twice, so far, at intervals of about a decade. On both occasions the breaking of my reality had everything to do with two separate individuals and the complex webs of lies they created. And on both occasions, I fought hard to keep my reality whole, because the alternative always appears so insane, unstable and dangerous. Until you escape. Both times, in the end, I went through the trauma of unpicking all the things I thought I knew, reassessing everything, falling apart, and being able to rebuild. The first time, I rebuilt on a foundation of broken trust, the second time I think I’ve come out with a more nuanced sense of things.

There are few things more frightening than finding that your reality doesn’t work. However, when you think about it, so much of the reality we inhabit depends on trust. It depends on things we have all agreed are true, exist and can be used as points of reference. Language, countries and economies are all part of our belief system. There’s a process at the moment not unlike saying ‘The Emperor has no clothes on’ in which we’re collectively reassessing the value of money markets, wealth made out of fantasy, and considering that the uber-rich might not be all that good for the rest of us. Bloodless revolutions can be dramatic and uncomfortable too.

I wonder what it was like for the devout Christians of the Victorian era, having to deal with Darwin, and the possibility that their book might not represent literal truth. There are still those who just won’t look at the evidence and who hold to the belief, and their relationship with the rest of reality gets ever more strained and problematic. There must have been plenty for whom Darwin brought deep, personal crisis. We’re asked to do a lot of trusting – of governments, scientists, lawyers, big businesses, media and medics these days more often than religious folk, but it is no less a belief position that keeps it all chipping along. We depend on the realities other people help to make, and sometimes those are very faulty indeed.

Most of the UK is in drought, my bit is being battered by torrential rain. We’ve had years of less predictable and more problematic weather already, but we’re still reluctant to think about climate change. For everyone whose notion of reality depends on car, reliable water supplies, all the electricity you can dream of and the freedom to consume more than you can afford, climate change is madness. Going there, recognising it, would require of our culture something not unlike a nervous breakdown. It’s going to hurt like hell.

I have leaned, in my personal life, that no matter how familiar and established a fictional reality is, when you are dealing with lies and illusions, it just doesn’t work. The effort required to bend and re-shape things into other things, so that your dysfunctional reality holds together, is vast. Every piece of evidence that doesn’t fit has to be reinvented. Experiences that contradict, must be forgotten, feelings that go against the reality, must be crushed. It may seem that we can make the reality stick, and that no other reality is possible, but it catches up with us in the end. Either we can’t sustain the work involved in holding a faith position about things that blatantly aren’t true, or we get so far removed from the rest of the world that we can’t function. Collectively, climate change will do one or the other to us, unless we deal with it. I’d like to think it’s possible to change by reasoned, deliberate choice rather than in crisis.

In personal life, the breaking of reality was an awful experience, but the far side of it is a much better place. Things make sense again. Sensory evidence can be trusted, emotions taken into account. A greater sense of inner peace becomes possible.

I’m wondering if ‘Jayne’ will feel tempted to comment on this post. If she does, it could be to ask if I’ve realised that I have been living a lie for the last couple of years. ‘Jayne’ has tried on several occasions to assert this already, but unless I’m very much mistaken, she needs to. ‘Jayne’ slipped up over the Easter weekend and made a comment that took me from suspicion about the familiarity of her phrasing, through to a reasonable degree of confidence that I know who she is.

Assuming I’m right in my guess then ‘Jayne’s ‘ hostility is necessary for her. Based on what I think I know, her situation requires her to hold the belief that I am a cruel, vindictive, heartless sort of person. It has been necessary for some time that she reads the very worst imaginable things into anything I do or say and must, therefore, cherry pick the bits that can be tweaked support her world view. So she comes to the blog of someone she dislikes for something, anything, that reinforces her perspective. I wonder what she has to carefully ignore to make her world work. I wonder what she has to pretend to like or accept, what she has to suppress within herself, in order to get from one day to the next with her reality intact. It’s no way to live. I know, I’ve been there. I try not to be too hard on her. She frustrates me, but I feel very sorry for her, and I also know that merely my saying that will poke the flimsy foundations of her world. If I am nice to her, I will hurt her. You can’t help someone whose reality doesn’t work, without causing them a lot of distress.

Sometimes the best we can hope for anyone, is that the fabulous prison-castle construction made of lies and straw shows its true nature so that it can be kicked to pieces. The walls are mostly just air. You are free to leave. It’s good when that happens.