Echo Chamber

Hey folks. This isn’t an angry post or a funny post. It’s actually a bit sobering. So…sorry about that. It’s just that, as I’ve browsed my various social networks over the last day or two, I’ve come to a conclusion, one suspected and maybe even previously hinted at but never really directly addressed: despite the profusion of “connections,” in my life, I hardly feel connected to anyone or anything at all; like a plant with a vast root network with tremendous breadth and negligible depth.

Sometimes I’ll visit my blog and, because it has randomly signed me out, I will see it as a stranger would (instead of from my typical administrative perspective). One thing I’ve noticed is that, by merit of my having linked to social networks for publication purposes, the subscribe section hilariously misinforms visitors that over 500 people “follow” my blog. It counts my Facebook “friends,” Twitter followers (bots and all), and even my few “faithful” Tumblr adherents. All are counted as “following” me.

But are they? Not a chance.

I see a lot of surveys go by on my dashboard designed for coping with boredom. They come in a variety of forms but the common denominator is that you provide a list of potential questions, and your followers are supposed to pick a few for you to answer. Alternatively, you provide a list of ways people might feel about you (impressed, annoyed, aroused, etc.) and wait to see what the random people who like and reblog your stuff think about the purveyor of that stuff.

My reaction to seeing those surveys is always the same: I marvel at the notion that there are people, even people with whom I interact, who might actually post those and have someone bother to answer them. Who might actually have a follower in their network who finds them attractive or engaging, who would genuinely be upset if, say, they announced they were deleting all their profiles and going off to live an unplugged life. It’s so foreign to me. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I’m leaving no such impact. I continue writing and posting and tweeting and sharing because I’m getting something from it, not because I’m delusional enough to believe that there are people who read those things and care about them and yet never post, never like, never comment on, and never share them. Those people don’t exist.

My blog, my Tumblr, my Facebook, and to a lesser but still relevant extent my Twitter, are echo chambers. I write under the illusion of impact, but when I drop the fancy machinations long enough to peek out from behind the curtain, I know there’s no real audience to speak of out there. Simply the occasional passerby who may, on rare occasion, toss a handful of change into the guitar case out of pity, maybe even out of the minor sort of pleasure which will be forgotten two blocks and a conversation down the road.

Of course, this isn’t a rant, just a (sad) observation. Aware that most of the people who at one time claimed interest in my life are currently showing nothing of the sort, I can’t help but shudder at the thought of how many of the people I follow have been similarly ignored by me. If I were to count on my hands the people whose lives I’m actually, really, still a part of in a meaningful way, would I even lift every finger? And as for those I’ve ceased to have a real connection with? It’s not so matter a question of if but of who, how many? And are any of them upset by it, the way I know I am about some of the relationships I’ve lost?

I don’t know.

I guess the point is I never will.

I do really appreciate those of you who are there, who do read, who do share, who do answer. For the last couple weeks I sought in vain to get email feedback on something I’d written, and despite hundreds of “followers” in my own networks and the hundreds or thousands more reached by the few who graciously shared my request with their “followers,” I received exactly no emails. And I fixated a bit on that zero, when I think I ought to have fixated on the names of the few who actually cared enough to attempt to promote me. Even those who by their own admission weren’t personally affected by or interested in the topic, but knew I cared and figured someone they knew might care too.

I don’t really know how to end this post since it was more a stream of thought than anything with a clear point. I suppose all that remains is to say if you read this and felt like I’m taking you for granted, and wish I weren’t, please say something. Seriously. No shame. I’m already saying mea culpa. Give those words direction ^_^

And everyone else: sometimes it’s not the roots that matter, but the flower; maybe rather than focusing on the water I’m drawing in, I should focus on the sunlight I reflect. Not maybe. Definitely.

I saw a group of girl scouts outside our local grocery store the other day, and it reminded me of a lighthearted piece I did long ago on “The Forge,” the name I gave to my writings when I was a teenager, the banner beneath which I actually wrote things which brightened people’s days. I guess there’s a time at which people wanted me in their life because talking with me didn’t feel like a game of Russian Roulette. And I think it’s safe to say I’ve lost that. I’m not blind or deaf. I know my name has become synonymous with a certain degree of belligerence. I know when someone wants a sentence they get a paragraph, and some refrain from starting conversations with me the way one refrains from beginning “the song that never ends;” because they know exactly what it is they’re getting into.

And I’ve just surpassed the 1000 word count. So, point made, point taken. If you need me, I’ll be off talking to myself.

2 thoughts on “Echo Chamber

  1. Roots of breadth are thin: easily synthesized, effortlessly maintained. They are also often displaced – then again, they are readily replaced when necessary. Roots of depth, on the other hand, grow thick and sturdy by their very nature. But they require precious things of you: time, investment, risk – a brand of vulnerability from which people possess a reflex to shy away, in spite of the fact that our most essential and persistent longing is for these deep roots. You desire something beyond the superficial in the interactions you have – but do you want the reward more than you want the guarantee of shallow-rooted safety?

    “I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I’m leaving no such impact. I continue writing and posting and tweeting and sharing because I’m getting something from it, not because I’m delusional enough to believe that there are people who read those things and care about them and yet never post, never like, never comment on, and never share them. Those people don’t exist.”

    The irony of that statement is what spurred me to post. I’m sorry you think that I – someone who reads and cares and yet never posts, likes, comments, or shares – don’t exist. To be fair, I don’t “follow” you – I consistently observe. I’m sorry you think I don’t exist, but perhaps, I don’t. At least, not to you. I only exist to you if you are concretely aware of me. You said it yourself – if you assume my existence without any evidence of it, to you my existence is a delusion. Something you construct to give your mind meaning. A device you use to convince yourself you are less alone than you fear you are. I garner incredible reflection, entertainment, and hope from your writing – all the while, you sigh in your imagined certainty that no one does. My silence enables you to be discouraged. Well, I’m going to fix that.

    I read. I care. And now, I comment. Let’s talk about how greatly I do exist, and did exist, even before you knew so. My roots are real – both kinds. Take your pick.

    1. There is indeed a great deal of irony outflowing from this particular blog. The most direct response I’ve received to anything personal I’ve written in a while, and it manifests in the form of comments like yours and messages received via other channels — all from the phantoms I swore weren’t real.

      How true it is that roots of depth require vulnerability — and the reflex to flee from it. I’ve been accused, not infrequently, of being TOO vulnerable — a thing which, in turn, has had the unintended side effect of pushing most people away. I often wonder if I’ve abandoned that so-called safety a long time ago, but never really got the reciprocal “reward” because my method wasn’t intimate enough, even if the message itself was. The conversations many would save for closed doors and close friends, I have with myself, aloud, to be overheard by people like you with names and faces to which I remain oblivious.

      In any case, it is as humbling as it is surprising to have these, I suppose we’ll say, hidden roots of mine, to reveal themselves. Perhaps that’s what I wanted to see in writing this, and didn’t even really know? Regardless, thank you for taking the time to do what you’d previously not. If commenting was undertaken to prevent discouragement, rest assured you were successful.

      And on a side note, I don’t know when or how you chose your moniker, but there’s a great irony to “Alexithymia” speaking of emotional depth ^_^

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