Doctorates in online gobsmackery

My fascination in the whole matter of internet and online social relationships continues to build and is a consistent theme which runs through my blog.  It was warming and affirming to see that my thoughts on trust really struck a chord too.  And I loved the quip from my online mentor (newly appointed 😉 ) and guru  Marie of Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer which suggested that a PhD in internet friendships and their complexity.  What a dream that would be to follow.  Can you imagine the amazing field research that would involve?  Reading all the blogs from my new-found friends and then arranging to meet as many as I could.  A study proposal is forming far too easily in my mind!

But all of that is fantasy.  Well for now it is…..  But I was keen to revisit briefly the them of trust and reflect on the many comments which came in.  What I found particularly interesting is that although the topic is potentially controversial (or so I had thought),  there was clear consensus around our online community.  That does not mean that it is not a complex and sensitive topic but this did reaffirm for me the very essence which was in my original discussion.  That of the strength and overwhelming sincerity in our community. The post and discussion brought out fairly consistent points.

  • We would rather trust and enjoy the many wonderful friendships and connections that we gain, albeit running the risk of being taken in, than miss out on a new friendship.
  • However, trusting is not easy and having been betrayed in a variety of ways, it can take time to allow ourselves to trust, especially where there are not the signs and corroborating back up which we are used to in our face to face or traditional interactions.
  • We are not equipped for the complexities and dimensions of social relationships which the internet brings.  But we are learning quickly and developing those skills!
  • Where trust is broken or we are deceived, there is a whole swathe of online support and back up to help us through.
  • We would far rather be the one who is at risk of being deceived than the one who deceives for whatever reason or motivation is behind their actions

This I am sure will continue to fascinate me and warm the cockles of my heart as time wears on and our community and interactions develop.

However, I wanted to highlight another gem which came out of the comments.  In the midst of our discussion about trust, there was a comment from my respected bloggess friend which included the word “gobsmacked”.  One of my favourite expressions.  A few comments further down one very wise and wonderful bloggess noted that she was hearing this word twice in one day and never encountered it before.  Now there are (dare I say rather boring?) definitions in the various online dictionaries for gobsmacked, such as:

Gobsmacked: adjective (British informal)

Definition:  utterly astonished; astounded: 1980s: from gob + smack, with reference to being shocked by a blow to the mouth, or to clapping a hand to one’s mouth in astonishment

I prefer this World Wide Words definition:

Gobsmacked combines the northern English and Scottish slang term gob, mouth, with the verb smack. It suggests the speaker is utterly astonished or astounded. It’s much stronger than just being surprised; it’s used for something that leaves you speechless, or otherwise stops you dead in your tracks. It suggests that something is as surprising as being suddenly hit in the face.

The gecko definition which came to being in my response is consistent with the detail on the above reference.

I know it is used a lot in the UK (especially in the north east of England and in Scotland particularly) and is a colloquialism for being totally astounded or shocked, kind of stunned into silence. The beautifully eloquent term “gob” is a crass word for “mouth” – “shut yer gob” is a particularly delightful expression to request someone to be quiet! I think that “gobsmacked” conveys the sense of being so taken aback and shocked at something that it feels like a physical blow.

Interesting enough, I clearly remember a message from a friend on hearing my diagnosis, which, thanks to technology (deep bow), I could call up.  He said:

….I’m gobsmacked about what you’re going through. I can’t believe it. But Scottish lasses are more than resilient, so I know you’ll sort this out nae bother. What are the next steps?

To which I replied:

sorry to smack your gob!! i know – it was totally unexpected, but i am in the best of places. Looks like we will be in Bangkok for a wee while for treatment, but early pathology is fairly optimistic…

So indeed there is a documented relationship between gobsmacking and cancer!  And my interpretation of gobsmacked as a bonus!
However, on top of my love of language and expression there is something which I love even more.  And that is prompted by my commenter referring to her lack of familiarity with “gobsmacked” by saying  “shows how little I know”.  Now she is one of the wisest and most eloquent bloggesses  I have been fortunate to connect with.  And she is enormously unassuming in the most humbling way. No, this is not about how little we know, but rather, how much there is still to learn no matter who we re or where we are in our lives and in the world.  And that was in the remainder of my comment reply.
Working in the field that I do, I have a kind of “mantra” which I try to live by as well as relentlessly reminding those around me – “you learn something new every day”. I love the fact that today’s learning is about “gobsmacked”!
We do learn something new every day, as long as we are open to it.  And we never know who our “teacher” might be – I often learn things from my 6 year old neighbour.  I am especially delighted to be part of a discussion in which an octogenarian embraces something new and looks for ways to adopt this.  How refreshing and humbling.
I continue to be gobsmacked at the great deal ofnew learning, as well as heartwarming and inspiring activity continually within this online circle, and a great deal of learning.  Now I think I will head off to look into doctorate opportunities at the University of the InterWeb 😉

Emotions stirred and thoughts provoked

Since writing about the unexpectedness and rawness of emotions sparked through friendships I have developed purely online, my mind has continued to ponder and I have found myself exploring this further at times at all sorts of times of day and night.  The reactions and varied comments, and even the flurry of twitter activity clearly told me that I am far, far from alone in this, and I guess that is at the heart of the matter.

There are a number of themes to emerge from the subsequent comments, discussions and blog postings and a couple of these have particularly taken my attention.  One theme to emerge is a comparison of the nature of online and “real life” friendships, or what I have seen termed “3D friendships” and the fact that they can feel in some ways as if they are more profound.

I also find the question of “overlap” fascinating.  This is where firm online friends meet in real life, or 3D.  The Accidental Amazon described meeting with 5 other feisty Breast Cancer Blogging Advocates at the recent  National Breast Cancer Coalition the US.  These women knew each other online, particularly through their blogs and it must have been a truly special if somewhat unreal experience to meet in person, as AA recounted in her comment on my unexpected emotions post.  On a similar vein, it was warming to read M of Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer as she blogged about meeting up with an online friend recently and talked about how different that face to face meeting was in comparison with her expectations.   I would love to meet my online cyber sisters and friends and wonder how we would get along if we did have the chance to connect in the real world.

The theme which has caused me the most reflection is that of why we become firm “stranger-friends”, sharing personal details about our illness and feelings, without knowing or even protecting our names and other identifying information.

When I reflect back over this whole cancer experience, I recall discussing my blog with family members, anxious to protect their privacy as well as using the blog as a way to update detail in a way which they could choose the level of detail they wanted to know.  I had realised that when I was sharing updates and news I would focus on the practical aspects of the diagnosis, treatment plans, side effects and of course, matters such as hair loss!  And let’s be honest there was plenty of that to talk about.   However, we never ventured far into the topics at the root of those scary, dark thoughts and fears which would keep me awake at night – being confronted with my mortality, my fears and my sense of vulnerability.  It is no secret that I started blogging mainly as an outlet for offloading those thoughts.  Rather than allowing them to feed on each other and grow, taking over my mind, I started to compose these thoughts into prose and the early thoughts even took a poetic form.   These enabled me to take control over thoughts, crafting them into something I could be proud of, rather than something to feed my fears.  Many of the words on this blog were formed during the hours when souls usually sleep and troubled minds make trouble.

How does this relate to our online relationships?  I find that the level of detail that I put on the blog is greater than I would or could discuss in person.  Without a stage to myself that is!  Let’s face it, if I were to recite or share a fraction of what I post here, it would resemble some long winded monologue!  In a regular conversation we tend not to talk in that level of detail.  A conversation usually does not allow the free rein that a blog posting does.  When you add the deeply personal writings which we put online with our interaction, a link is made, often a feeling of close friendship, generally reciprocal and one which can develop quickly into a deep emotional connection.  The fact that the words we share are not bound by the diversions of face to face discussions means that our thoughts and ideas can develop and be expressed in a continuous train of thought, without diversions, interruptions or the subtle body language signals that guide a spoken conversation.  There are no raised eyebrows, or sharp intakes of breath to tell us while we are posting that we should move onto another topic, or give the current one a rest.  Being able to process and express these ideas is enormously healthy and helpful.  The fact that our site stats tell us that someone is interested enough to read our thoughts, updates and rants often in great detail gives us the signal to follow through our train of thought.  We lay our hearts and minds out for all to read in the public domain.

The beauty of this is that it is so often reciprocal.  I greedily read the deeply, personal thoughts and accounts of so many blogs, often initially because our path is similar and then because we develop a bond of friendship.  By laying open our hearts and by reading and engaging with each other through comments, Facebook, twitter and sometimes personal messages, we quickly reach a level of intimacy and familiarity, deepened by a shared experience and in a context frequently of feelings of vulnerability.  I believe that this combination enables such a strong emotional connection,

When I look back at the thought process that I have followed even in this post, I can see that the act of articulating these ideas has enabled me to arrive at my own slightly clearer understanding of this unexpected phenomenon of the depth and powerful emotions of online friendships.  It has helped me to understand part of the question “why?” these friendships spark such deep emotions.  It does not even begin to explore the question “how” to handle these feelings.  However, that process of rationalising and attempting to understand and acknowledging in itself will prepare us and thus help to equip us to handle these emotions.

Even more powerful is the fact that so many of us feel similarly and this reassures us that we are not alone in far more ways than one.