Virtual adolescent

“Like two golden birds in the self-same tree, intimate friends, the ego and the Self dwell in the same body. While the former eats the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree of life, the latter looks on in detachment.”

 – Mundaka Upanishads

I’ve left it too long to write and now I find I have two posts to write, but then I realise they are connected maybe even the same.  I think they are about the ego and the Self, about doubt and trust or a step beyond, faith.   So one story is about abundance easily received, the other about uncertainty and hesitation. 

This morning was a near-perfect autumn day, I discovered an amazing tree laden with red-fleshed apples ripe for picking near the church and though I felt greedy picking some, when I left the tree looked no different than when I arrived.  Now the cloud cover has descended.  So the heart leaps and settles, jumps to respond, but underneath these movements, is the detached colourless Self.

I had a near-perfect whole day earlier this week.  As it was unfolding, I reflected on its content and how I felt.  It combined so many elements – yoga, good conversation, an unexpected discovery and connection…and then the special powers of a home concert that everyone had made happen together, working its magic once again.  Such a powerful sense of community, connection, enjoyment, warmth. 

I feel a surge of something, a renewed trust in what life offers, and wanting to thank everyone who contributes. Maybe the pitch is too high?  So many good things…remembering to observe and receive the sweet and bitter fruits of life with detachment.

Coming back to the world, I rediscovered this post which I wrote in March, somehow it got lost and I found I had more to add to it.  The post may have matured with time, but I’m not sure I have!


Late last winter I was driving in the early morning and while I was waiting at a roundabout I heard a slight thud against my car. A car whizzed past me and was hesitating to push further in the queue, I thought ‘he’s hit me!’ and I started doing all the things you’re supposed to do – signalling, then when the driver didn’t respond, I flashed him. He carried on aggressively pushing ahead and out of sight but not before I wrote down his licence number. I sat there in my bubble feeling mildly outraged but not exactly surprised. It was still too dark outside in the early morning to see if there was any damage, but I felt myself resigned to the experience. I was already thinking that if there was any damage and I raised it through my insurance company, the driver would almost certainly contest it.

When I got to my session and discovered to my great relief that there was no visible damage, I suddenly grasped the connection between this minor ‘accident’ and the session I was about to lead, which was all about trust.

‘Most people can be trusted’,
people agreeing with this statement in the UK over the last few decades:

1959 – 56%

1981 – 43%

1990 – 44%

1999 – 29%

I wonder what the figure would be now…

‘…there has been a decline in the level of fellowship which holds society together. This has eroded the bonds of trust between us, and children suffer as a result. There are, however, countries in which trust has not declined. In Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands around two-thirds of people believe that most people can be trusted – twice as many as in Britain and the USA.’ Layard, R and Dunn, J (2009) – A good childhood

On my drive, after my near miss, these thoughts were bubbling in my mind and came together along with some reflections on a video clip I had seen recently called ‘We are all Cyborgs now’. The clip is about the power of the internet to give us real connections but also some of the challenges of genuinely being ourselves ‘virtually’. Amber Case talks about our virtual adolescence as we become used to having an online identity. When we first venture online we may falter, like a child learning to walk, and yet she makes the point that unlike real adolescence which we outgrow and which lives on only in memory, our virtual adolescence remains there online with our faltering steps, our blunders, intact for all to see.

This point really hit home and made me reflect on my adolescence online over the last couple years. It all started with me feeling motivated to comment on someone’s blog – someone I didn’t know at the time.  I was really uneasy about writing anything, I remember how scary but also exciting it was, and it was such a relief to me when the person responded to my comment.  I ‘progressed’ on from there, learning to walk, and finally creating my own blog.

How do I feel about the litter and legacy of my online development process being there forever? Partly I don’t care because I can’t see that anyone else does. However, when I stumble across an old comment, I sometimes feel uneasy and even exposed. That was a moment in time.  Do I want it to live on?  I often have no choice, but if I did I would usually let it go.

All of our personal incoherent online histories are there to be retrieved, should anyone wish to piece them together. That feels quite vulnerable for reasons I don’t fully understand. It’s clearly something to do with trust. Do I trust the world to hold my pieces together benevolently, or at the very least neutrally? On a day like I had this week, I certainly do.

Do I trust those who might come across me online to behave with respect and care? Do I have real relationships with the people I know online only and with some of whom I discuss issues of the deepest importance to me? I think I do, but these are relationships that can be discarded at the flick of a switch without any real consequences or repercussions in daily life. People you think you are connected with can disappear or just suddenly not respond, and you are left hanging/wondering. You could say this is a lesson in learning how not to be attached – but at the other extreme it might become an experience of carelessness towards others and even perhaps oneself.  The ambiguous and uncertain status of these connections must have some effect on the psyche and on how we relate to others and ourselves.  I don’t quite know what that effect is.

The anonymity of ‘Most people’ in the statement ‘Most people can be trusted’ is exponentially increased when thinking of the internet. The statement on its own makes me think of a crowded tube station with lots of people milling around.  I feel warmer towards those strangers than when I imagine a vast number of faceless people at computers. All of us in our bubbles surfing online.

Moving beyond trust, for me it is an act of faith when I write something online, on my blog or someone else’s. It feels like a hand held out to make an authentic connection of the spirit – it requires huge trust and faith in the world and in the person to whom I write, as well as to the many others who might read me and feel something. Sometimes I find it quite hopeful. Other times I find it bleak. Other times I just feel I am writing because there is a voice to be spoken and perhaps heard.  But maybe I feel this way, and with the ups and downs, because I am still, perhaps always, a virtual adolescent! Still learning the ropes. (Are there any ropes?!)  So much of the time I am caught up in ego, out of touch with Self.

I started this post writing about insurance. We ‘take out’ insurance to protect ourselves from external mishaps, but surely the real insurance needs to be taken from within. This kind of inner insurance protects from that feeling of vulnerability and gives reinforcement and reassurance to the value that is already there. It is ultimately a protection of faith. Sometimes this feeling of protection arrives as a gift and other times it can be restored through practice with determination. For me writing on this blog can sometimes be that insurance.

Suddenly on my drive a few seasons ago, I felt myself fly forward in time and I thought how fascinating it would be to track someone’s journey of development from virtual adolescence to virtual maturity or even virtual wisdom, and how this would be the material of future books. In a future time when people no longer hesitate to express themselves virtually, maybe have overcome those doubts and restored trust, there will be a treasure trove of material to unpack and explore.

Many years ago I pored over Virginia Woolf’s revisions of The Waves and TS Eliot’s amendments of Four Quartets, a process that involved really getting into the mind, heart, spirit and being of these writers. Others in times to come will follow Google links to discover all the online appearances of a favoured writer. Their foibles will be explored, the possibilities of similar themes tracked through their comments on different blogs or discussion groups. What websites did they visit, whose blogs did they read, where did they leave their mark? Collected Letters will be replaced by collected weblogs, online musings – a virtual snail’s trail of reflections. This glimpse into the future is a fascinating prospect, almost making me want to be reborn in a future time.

This moment of vision gives me a renewed passing sense of faith in my virtual development process and in the power of the connections that are out there to be made.

This entry was posted in connections, friendships, groups, organisational life, writing, blogging. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Virtual adolescent

  1. Viv says:

    I think our understanding of the online world grows steadily. In the late 90s, I was dubious and wary about even using email. The concept of a blog was still unknown to me; I contributed to a number of online discussion forums, using an alias.
    Now, it’s totally different.
    I do know what you mean about people vanishing: you know I do! And that I guess is the downside. people we pour our thoughts out to can disappear without trace, leaving us wondering whether it was something we said, or whether something dire has happened.
    This is why, to some extent, it becomes important to move a little beyond the screen with those we feel closest to. To meet those in the flesh we have only met as pixels.
    Like the debate about e-books and real-books, why does it have to be either or? Can it not be both?

  2. Karin says:

    Viv, I agree, it doesn’t need to be either/or and can be both where the connection is real, logistics notwithstanding. I agree with you about the importance of moving beyond the screen with those we feel closest to. You can discover though, as I have in one case, that the person you thought you knew through their writing and online persona is rather different than they present. Also, meeting someone in the flesh, doesn’t prevent them disappearing, does it? In truth, what interests me is how you connect with people through these media – how you make connections that are real/genuine and not just a time-filler, and how you avoid misunderstandings when all you have is online comment. I know these issues matter to you too. You are one of the few people I’ve met in this way who I feel such a connection with. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Viv says:

    I think that I too am just still feeling my way round this issue, and yes, meeting and talking with someone in the flesh doesn’t stop them disappearing!
    My rule of thumb is to put the best interpretation possible on comments, and failing that, politely ask for clarification. Never assume an attack OR a compliment, until clarification is made. I had a conversation on Twitter with someone who has commented on my blog, and indeed who I have had email conversations with; for a short time, I thought he was attacking me, diminishing me but it turns out I’d got the wrong end of the stick. I found out by actually just asking, Did you mean me? He was horrified and upset that I might have thought he’d classed me in a category that we’d both previously expressed distaste for. Sometimes too, information is missing, and you get a sense that someone is NOT saying something that would make things much clearer.
    It’s rare that people can be completely open and honest in online communications but I aim as far as I can to ensure that I do not present a mask that is too far from my real face, for the simple use of the internet is the wearing of a mask. We have our usernames and our personas and our avatars. It took me a long while to use my real name online; I feared….well, I don’t know what I feared now.
    The internet means we can find our soul kin, but sometimes we meet others who seem to be and are not. Only time and exploration can discern for sure which are which.
    Good topic, great article.

    • Karin says:

      I agree with what you say, Viv. If you think of the persona as a mask, there is always a mask – it’s just that the internet makes it far easier to wear one, to hide, to avoid, to create/fabricate, to exaggerate aspects of oneself. Perhaps in a way, like but different from a caricature, the internet enables us to either deliberately or inadvertently draw out core qualities/characteristics which in the course of being ourselves in everyday life are combined, muted or interwoven with many other reactions, behaviours, qualities. Like you, I like to be as genuine as possible – but I am always self-conscious that there is an unknown audience potentially there, rather like if you’re having an intimate conversation with a friend in a restaurant and people are sitting at a table near you within earshot. ‘The internet means we can find our soul kin, but sometimes we meet others who seem to be and are not. Only time and exploration can discern for sure which are which.’ This is true in life full stop. You and I met online because of an author I was researching and a link that took me to something you’d written. This could happen in real life too, for instance if we both had gone to a workshop on the same author. And we could discover there as here that we had a real connection or only a shared interest. So in that sense the internet is just life… Thanks for engaging with this. x

  4. Merlin says:

    The reason people can longer be trusted is their anonymity. In years past you knew your neighbours and the people in the community around you.

    But today people -particularly in the uk- are very territorial and lock themselves in their houses. Why ? Because they are overcrowded so space matters.

    And people today are far more mobile. The man that hit your car might have lived down the road or far away- you couldn’t not know. Thus those who do wrong can hide behind their anonymity and their ability to move around.

    Solution. A smaller more stable population where people know each other.

    In my village if we see a child doing wrong we know the child and any of us will tell them off. But in more crowded parts you wouldn’t know them.

    The single thing UK governments have failed above all others is failing to keep numbers at a human level.

  5. Karin says:

    I had an interesting conversation last week, M, with a woman who said that she believes the gulf is widening between cities and rural communities. I guess you would agree with her. Is it anonymity or the unknown that inspires distrust? I am not convinced. I think it depends where you start from, whether as the ego bird or the Self.

    • Chris says:

      Lots of thoughts but not many conclusions and possibly Karin going to smack my wrist for wandering from the main theme of her thoughts.

      Self? Ego? Mmmmh! Not sure of myself in that territory.
      Trust? Anonymity? Internet identity? Smaller communities?

      Trust. An interesting word. When we say we trust someone we generally mean we trust them to do “the right thing” – to demonstrate that their set of life values matches ours. But is there a flip side? I know a lady I trust to always do me down, to find fault with everything I say or do. She’s certainly not anonymous. We’ve lived near each other for 20+ years and I’ve done business, both commercial and community related, with her.

      And what I miss in e-mails etc is the extra input you would get about someone face to face. No facial expressions. No hand gestures. No telltale strain in the voice. No body language. The technology is there but not enough people use it. Maybe in the grand scheme of things it’s all too new.

      Merlin’s picture of an idyllic village is high in my mind as we are trying here to decide the future of a derelict village hall. Derelict because the nature of the community has changed. But lifelong residents look back half a century ago and think they can turn the clock back. It won’t work. Many people now live here not because they were born here but because they like the place. They didn’t choose it for their neighbours and although we mostly behave in a civil and friendly manner to each other there aren’t that many lifelong friendships being formed. We don’t actually see that much of each other. When I lived in a Barbican flat I saw more of my neighbours than I do here. We can only live in our rural village if we use cars. There is little work here and no facilities and the cars that take us to shops, cinemas, doctors’ surgeries can also take us to the people we want to spend time with. We are not dependant for all our social interaction on the other residents. We can’t have kids wandering about here either – too many cars and heavy agricultural vehicles around and too much distance between houses. The self-reliant community of the past is a strange land not to be re-visited.

      • Karin says:

        When you say you know someone you ‘trust’ to ‘do you down’, you are using ‘trust’ in a different way, perhaps a slightly sardonic way (if that’s the right word), than when we talk about having ‘trust’ in a neutral colourless way. The positive element of trust is the consistency of response you receive (but in this case it’s a consistent negative response). Words evolve into degenerative sometimes negative meanings, almost veering to their opposites at times – I may have written about this before but my favourite is ‘candid’ which pre-18th century meant ‘kind’ and now of course means often nearly brutal, certainly bracing.

        Any image of an idyllic past is suspect. I am always intrigued at how people gravitate to this perspective, eg ‘remember the days when children could play on the streets safely’ etc. First, we can never really know what that past was like if it is a distant past, as we weren’t there – and if we were there, now in this moment when we look back we remember it and memory is a strange thing. Second, why look back rather than look here now and look at what we have to do, or not do/stop doing, to just be in the here and now and trust? The state-of-mind of bemoaning the passing of the past is destructive – it breeds discontent and also takes us away from our present experience which is all we really have. Why do we wish to do it, what is is that encourages the wish to place the past above the present and see this downward trend? Perhaps there is no trend.
        Thanks for your comment, Chris – lots of food for thought.

  6. Pingback: Honesty, Integrity and Trust…. | Madhu Sameer

  7. libramoon says:

    gypsy hand

    Too brite days
    midnights that refuse to
    abide dark and secret
    as empty phrases chant
    to fairytale Moons
    I tell myself
    This is no ordinary room
    This is no fleeting flittering life
    This is a magical passageway
    sparkling like mica, like miracles

    Quiet traces
    luminous impression
    a trailing kite tail binds
    silent whimpers, sojourning whispers,
    tears shining behind mime smiles

    Crone’s gnarled fingers, playing
    to spite agony
    simulate touch
    beyond ache
    Too brite cell,
    crouched scarred shadow
    I cast silhouette of metamagic gypsy

  8. Chris says:

    Hi again Karin,

    I hadn’t heard the history of ‘candid’ but am indebted to you for it. I can’t wait to find the right person to share it with. And now (or at least a few weeks ago) young people use ‘wicked’ to mean exactly the opposite of what my generation thinks it means. Fascinating study.

    A thought about looking back to a rosy past. Memory is selective and since inevitably we were younger in the past we may not have been aware of the whole picture. I remember an idyllic childhood when my brother and I were raised with love and discipline. (Thinking about the meaning of words again maybe discipline is another form of love?) But now when I think back I can remember my mother missing meals saying that she was not hungry. Now I’m pretty sure that sometimes there wasn’t enough to go round and husband and children came first. But if nature conditions us to remember the good bits how did we as a human race learn from the bad bits? Or didn’t we?

    • Karin says:

      Hi Chris, If you are interested in candour and other such words that have changed meaning, see William Empson’s The Structure of Complex Words – not so easy to read but really interesting – and the candour section links also with Jane Austen.

      I have a post on discipline I haven’t finished (ill-disciplined?!) I like your link with love.

      I think there is a distinction between remembering your own past and holding views about The Past. Some people will remember their own pasts fondly or else bleakly – depending on many factors both in the person and in the context. Maybe that then influences how they view The Past. I am not sure what the relationship is, if indeed there is one.

  9. sally oliver says:

    What a wonderful concept! The snail trails of a writer”s thoughts through blogs seems to me, (writing my first comment, ) like something out of Bladerunner! The very word Blog holds dreary connotations because as an child anything or anyone who was boring was written off as “bloggins”!

    • karin says:

      I like the Bladerunner image – very evocative! I also agree that the word ‘Blog’ does not, at first acquaintance, warm the heart. However, once I realised it was an abbreviation for the word ‘weblog’ from whence it comes, I saw a certain utilitarian value in it. And now I’ve just got used to it and I even like the heavy-soundedness of it. Good to see you here, Sally, and I hope you will return! Thanks for commenting.

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