On our blogs, we used to write comments like this

water lily

Flashback to August 2007:

I wanted to respond to two comments this morning, but a samba/bossa nova band was performing in Goodale Park, and the weather in Columbus was unusually pleasant for late August, when the rattle of cicadas is usually accompanied by insufferable heat and humidity. I was imagining what to write when I arrived at the bandstand and spread my blanket on the grass in front of a pond half-filled with enormous waterlilies, their leaves shaped like the foliage of mammoth nasturtiums. When towheaded six-year-old replicas of Cloud ran along the edge of the lily pond, they were a scene from Final Fantasy VII Advent Children, the movie we’re trying to analyze.

Flicking the centipedes and spiders from my blanket, I glanced over at a neo-earth mother nursing her baby and a small group practicing tai chi in the shade of an oak. I listened to the singer introduce each selection to an audience that did not speak Portuguese. “I don’t want to steal you,” she said, translating lyrics that celebrated the diverse ethnicity, exuberant culture, and natural beauty of Brazil’s Bahia.

I don’t want to twist someone else’s meaning to suit my purposes, but I’m human and, therefore, fallible. Can I discipline myself to absorb and pay tribute to what I like instead of being viral in the sense of merely imitating or reproducing a new interpretation, only to discard it in favor of the next meme or trendy influence?

Final Fantasy VII Advent Children is not meant to be a self-contained story. In a society accustomed to vivid soundbites, the movie and its fans are anomalies. Advent Children is one episode in a multimedia series filled with symbols intended to provoke discussion and debate among fans. Mystery is alluring. It confronts us with the danger of declaring, “This is key. This is what it means.” The Bible, Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, Machiavelli’s Il Principe, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Think of the literature we value because it is open to individual interpretation.

I learn to say, “This is what I call it.”

Social media give us one more opportunity to listen to others. “This is what it means to me,” they say. “This is my name for it.”

Ryu Kaze translated the storyline of Final Fantasy VII Advent Children and provides his analyses of certain segments and characters, including this one:

…the knowledge of those who die returns to the Lifestream with their spirits, and there it combines with all the other knowledge; so the Lifestream is a big sea of spirit energy filled with knowledge and memories, and when someone else falls into that sea—or is exposed to it through mako infusion—that knowledge fills their brains. If they’re not capable of handling all that extra knowledge that doesn’t belong to them, it can cause their mind to “break,” resulting in them going into a vegetative state (mako poisoning). Members of SOLDIER like Zack can handle this without losing their own place among all the extra knowledge, but people with inferiority complexes (most people, including Cloud) can’t.

As the band performed its last few numbers, a man in his sixties walked confidently to the concrete apron in front of the stage. His skin was black, his head was shaved, and he was wearing dark sunglasses, stonewashed jeans, Italian leather shoes, ropes of heavy silver chain around his neck, and a sleeveless white undershirt covering a slight paunch. Slowly, he began to interpret the music in dance that was a blend of martial arts, samba, contemporary ballet, and hip hop. The effect was disconcerting but not unlovely.

The last song was “Agradeço (I Am Thankful).”

It’s beautiful here today.

5 Replies to “On our blogs, we used to write comments like this”

  1. My actual commentary comes separately, for effect.

    The comments sections of commercial sites are simultaneously deep and shallow pools of rot and stench. We’re trained not to look at them (or alternatively to throw in yet more bile).

    Meanwhile, little blogs battle a steady stream of spam bots.

    I don’t have the answer, and I don’t want to go #getoffmylawn, but it does seem that social media have indeed made the internet more social in many ways, but at the expense of thoughtful discourse among friends.

    A couple of my closest friends did have blogs, back in the day, but before I knew either one well. They ran in a gang of four close-knit friends, all of whom had blogs and commented on each others’.

    Today they’re Facebook friends, and the thoughts they used to share in their blog worlds are somewhere else – perhaps via text (which sounds confining, but actually is much less so than one would think). Wherever it is, it’s not on any big social media platform. On those, they (and I) are sharing photos of dogs and donuts.

  2. In my experience, thoughtful discourse among friends is and always has been as rare in person as it is online. It requires a sort of obsession with encoding and decoding that isn’t typical. (I started to say normal.)

    Of course, we all think we’re normal and other people are strange. But seriously, tell me what makes a person care deeply about words, word choice, grammar, clarity, honesty, transparency, communication, understanding. Why do their opposites seem wounding, or at best, cavalier? Most people probably don’t feel that way. Harry Harlow might have been onto something.

    I agree that the social web helps us connect. It’s especially useful for connecting people who share unusual interests. The corollary is its ability to create distance between individuals whose interests are incompatible. We constantly fail to recognize that what happens online is real life.

    All relationships can be described with a cost–benefit analysis. A conversation with you, Mike, is effortful. Do you agree? You don’t care to waste time on polite trivialities, so you’ll distance yourself from someone who doesn’t spend the time to engage in a thoughtful discussion. Most people, on the other hand, value the uncomplicated, the emoji, the superficial sign of approval. To them, you’d be making unreasonable demands. To them, the benefit of your approval might be insufficient.

    Most of us now communicate through many different channels in order to accommodate the preferences of friends and family. Eschewing a particular network can mean losing touch with those who limit themselves. Costs? Benefits? Sometimes the costs are in dollars.

    It’s impossible to imagine how other people feel and how they measure costs and benefits, yet we tend to believe that everyone thinks the way we do. What a setup for perpetual disappointment.

    I’m trying to join people in their comfort zones, as long as they can respect my limitations, but I’ll always prefer challenging discussions with friends who have time to give a damn. (I just ran out of clarity here.)

    By the way, on WordPress.com, Akismet spam protection works wonders. Their marketing copy refers to “the underbelly of the web.”

  3. I’ve pondered what to say, as you’ve framed the online world quite well.

    The one thing that caught me was when you called thoughtful conversations “effortful” (originally with me, but with anyone, really). Effortful? That evokes Sisyphus for me; so much work to stay standing.

    “Deliberate,” I thought. Deliberate is a nice word. Intentional, but also with focused thought.

    This morning I realized how many brain cells I’d burned in trying to better the word “effortful” – and thus realized why it was in fact the right one.

  4. Why, thank you. I’m flattered. My response was aided by a glass of wine.

    Sisyphean efforts can be rewarded, overlooked, or even punished. Unpredicted outcomes are discouraging and confusing. You reminded me of these two wordless stories:

    PUNISHED

    REWARDED

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