Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

My Bilerico, Internet Home Sweet Home

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | May 21, 2011 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Site News
Tags: friends with benefits, internet, internet culture, Pattern Recognition, William Gibson

Waking slowly, very late, this Friday morning as I write this.Pattern_recognition_(book_cover).jpg

I saw Bil and Jerame last night in NYC, and it was a late night. Usually up bright and early, I crawl to find desperate coffee at noon. I look for something soothing, and stumble on William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, publication date 2003, read before, a few times, and perfect for this morning. Gibson's a prophet of the internet age, nominally a science fiction writer, father of the cyberpunk genre, says we're all going to live on the internet, for better and for worse. Strikes a particular chord with me this late cloudy morning, waiting for rain.

It occurs to me that Gibson's prophecy is my life, and the internet is my home. I can live without a TV, actually cherish its absence, have no problem with a long summer away from the College, can tolerate friends and family living hours away and long pauses between phone calls, but without the internet I would be lost, truly lost.

And of all the places in the world, it is this Bilerico that is my home.

I know it is home to many of you, too. I know that because you are my closest friends.

Have we lost something in this internet age? Yes, but we have gained something as well.

Gibson's main character in Pattern Recognition, Cayce Pollard, is also a prophet of sorts, who has a talent and a curse for pattern recognition of what's cool in a rootless high-security, high-insecurity internet age where the ground shifts underneath our feet constantly. Her home is the internet. She's an aficionado of mysterious film footage.

She seats herself in his high-backed workstation chair and clicks the transparent mouse Stutter of infrared on the pale wood of the long trestle table. The browser comes up...The front page opens, familiar as a friend's living room....She enters the forum itself now, automatically scanning titles of the posts and names of posters in the newer threads, looking for friends, enemies, news.

It's her home. Like Bilerico is my home.

Being with Bil and Jerame in person is completely different from my internet relationship with the online presences of Bil the Editor-in-Chief and Jerame the Webmaster. Our personal encounters are sweet, but rare, and almost disconnected from Bilerico.

On the internet, Bil feels like a mentor, Scorpio-like but compassionate, cutting through the hype with laser-like precision. Jerame is the Webmaster, not often seen or heard, but pulling the strings with quiet efficiency and an occasional curse at the gremlins.

In person, though, the experience is totally different.

Bil's a prophet of sorts himself, a tall, lanky man with authoritative-looking scruff, a funny, dark, unvarnished Hoosier mystic, sparse of words sometimes, voluble at others, always a presence. Jerame is intense, a tall, sturdy man with piercing blue eyes like an eagle's, not unkind but watch the talons of his sharp mind. I dearly love them, but my relationship with them is mostly on the internet, and it's the internet versions of them that I most respond to.

The New York Times said that Gibson nails the texture of internet culture: how it feels to be close to someone you know only as a voice in a chat room, or to fret about someone spying on your brower's list of sites visited.

It occurs to me that I am Gibson's hero, Cayce Pollard, perhaps we all are.

Like Cayce, I, too, have nearly all my dearest friends from the internet. I live an hour from anywhere, and my colleagues from work are dear to me, but our context is work, not friendship, though we have in common our love of what we do. I have some personal friends, garnered at odd times and through odd circumstances, and we don't talk every day. Perhaps once or twice a month, see each other even more rarely, though we delight in the times we manage to straggle into the same proximate space at the same proximate time.

My friends from the internet are much closer, in character, if not in space-time. Ours is a meeting of the minds, intense, piquant, and compelling.

Bilerico is my home now. My antique but utilitarian house is but my residence, and I do dearly love it, but my true home is opening up bilerico.com and seeing Bil, Jerame, and Alex, and people known to me as Zoe, Edith, amym, Carol, Sas, Deena, Geena, Monica Helms and Monica Roberts, Kelley, AJ, Yasmin, Kat (or is it Cat, or both?), Radical Bitch, ginasf, a host of others. We agree, disagree, commiserate, clash, get rowdy, get angry, and let our hair down. Isn't that family?

When I write a post, slowly savoring the words, writing and deleting, checking for synonyms to say it better, check a source, worry about being too critical or not critical enough -- I feel so, connected for those hours, and it's thrilling. It's not typing on a little keyboard and squinting at a little screen; it's connection, purely, and the intermediary of glowing rectangles goes unnoticed until I feel that crick in my back, and have to, reluctantly, so reluctantly, let go your eyes. I see those first comments come straggling in, and I think about them, I relish the words, even the typos. I roll over in my mind what I think about your thoughts, until my own words come spilling out, almost unbidden.

It's almost obscene in its intensity. I think I am nuts for feeling this way. I wonder if I am incapable of true friendship, some flaw in my character that I cannot see, and it's easier to connect to the insubstantial ghosts of the internet. But then I think of all of you, real, substantial people, sitting and sharing the experience with me, sipping your coffee or your tea or whatever, rolling words over in your minds, savoring them as much as I, chasing the experience of what it means to be you and how to explain it in words to all of us. That heart, that devotion, that desire to share experience -- it's as real as any meet up, standing around in a bar, or sitting in a restaurant. More real, perhaps, because the discussion is about things dear to my heart and better than any I've had in person.

I feel genuine gratitude for you all, sharing your friendship, your heart, your passion. It means the world to me.

William Gibson said it well. Describing Cayce's life on the internet, he says:

It is a way now, approximately, of being at home. The forum has become one of the most consistent places in her lives, like a familiar cafe that exists somehow outside of geography and beyond time zones.

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This is really interesting. I'm a rising senior journalism major, and this summer I'm doing most of my work online. As a member of the last generation to really have experienced life before and after everything moved online, it's bizarre to me that I've been working with an editor for six months whose voice I've never heard, and you're right when you say that you feel like you've met and hung out with this online community in person. I wonder if it'll feel less bizarre for people who are kids now, who've never known a life where human interactions are dominantly virtual...

In some ways, it's like the more civilised parts of the world in the 19th and early 20th centuries. When there were three or four mail deliveries a day, and often a note written in the morning would be answered by mid-day.

Without a quantum improvement in public transport though, it's unlikely that I'll see many of my friends, share a meal with them, hug them.

I suspect though that I'm a better person on the net than in real life. So perhaps that's for the best.

I do believe that you, and Gibson are correct. I even find that when I am out and about with local friends I often find my self pulling away to get back to the net. There are times when someone who is part of my world here is not around for a while that I find myself worrying a bit. Is he/she OK?
Like when Austen wasn't here for a bit recently. I was concerned about that girl.. Speaking about these relationships in the cyberworld, I will be in San Francisco the weekend of Pride fest. Any interested in a meet-up for coffee or a meal? If so. e-mail me and let's see. I'm meeting my son's wife to be for the first time face to face.

It's called internet addiction, it's a valid psychological problem.

When I first went on the internut in the mid-ninties I suffered from it badly for a while too.

Step away from the computer, get a life.

How coincidental - I just loaded Pattern Recognition on my Kindle this morning for a 5th read (perhaps 6th? I lose track at my advanced age). And yes, the internet does become a place, mentally if not geographically, that I visit and think of as home. Just as much as the Kindle/Evernote/Smartphone become extensions of my memory that to me are every bit as valid as my "meat memories".