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 😉

In trust we blog

When I first entered this strange new place known as “life after hearing the you have cancer words”, I realise that I had expectations of how life would be playing out from then on.  I vaguely expected that I would go through the treatment, share the emotional turmoil with family, friends and colleagues and then resume some kind of life as it had been “before”.  Needless to say, it hasn’t quite turned out like that.  The basics were there, but life changed beyond recognition.  And life has never been the same since, for better and for not so better.

There has been one dimension of the cancer experience which has been totally unexpected.  And that dimension is the rich, supportive environment I stumbled upon online, particularly through blogging.  I could never have imagined the number of people I have connected with, and particularly the depth of many of those friendships. Now, this is not something new to my posts.  I have previously (and often) discussed how emotionally involved I have become with friends I have connected with online. I have described how taken aback at the level of distress when one of our number is taken. The raw grief of loss, and the unexpected tears on learning that someone you have never “met” has been taken simply crashes through the boundaries we are accustomed to. I have previously, and more than once talked about how much that has surprised me.  I have been moved beyond any imaginable expectations when one of my online friends was dealing with the toughest of times.  So this is not a new topic in my mind, but I continue to be astounded at the warmth and genuine friendship which has developed with friends online and value this more than I can express in words.  Utterly heart-warming.

In the past few weeks, however, I have been nudged to revisit some of these thoughts. I was shocked when reading a post from Nancy where she shared her shock when she learned that another blogger had taken her posts and copied them almost word for word.  This made me reflect on how much we expose ourselves online and lay ourselves open emotionally.  Just because what we write is completely genuine, we take it that all other similar blogs are similarly true.  We generally accept what we read by fellow bloggers and bloggesses at face value in such areas as cancer blogging.  Yet the internet is an unpoliced medium and as far as I am aware, there are no checks to ensure that what is written is true if that is what is implied or stated.

And then, this week I was I was catching up on Chez’s blog when I was stopped in my tracks wen I read her post about “Annie”.  Chez and Anne had connected online, guest posted on each other’s blogs and after some time “Annie” abruptly broke contact.   Given her secondary diagnosis, Chez feared the worst and thanks to social media and perseverance was able to get in touch with one of her friends.  She was shocked beyond belief to discover that “Annie” had in fact fabricated her diagnosis and whole blog.

The point which I come back to again and again in this is the extent to which we trust.  Nancy trusted her readers yet one chose to lift her words, and use them as her own.  Chez trusted that “Annie” was being honest.  Yet we find that this virtual layer of our friendships has the potential to be deceptive.

Essentially, we are trusting strangers, unknown entities, and opening our hearts and minds.  We share our fears, our hopes and intricate details of what we go through in the cancer experience.  Some of this is highly personal, but the supportive environment and strength of friendship reassures us and we feel able to trust.  And then our world is rocked when something we trusted and believed turns out to be smoke and mirrors.  That reflection in the mirror is of the complicated and inter-connected online lives and relationships we develop.  And how much trust we place on the basis of the information in front of us, often because we share so much of our own personal self online.  Something like this knocks that trust.

However, this has to be put in balance with the depth and number of genuine friendships and individuals in our online community.  A good number of bloggers have posted accounts of real-life 3D meet-ups.  The variety of social media we use also means that we have a kind of triangulation which must make it more difficult, but in no way impossible, to be duplicitous.  Perhaps we have a sense of additional false security because we are after all living with our breast cancer diagnoses. But many of the signals that protect us in the “real” world are not there in the virtual world.  We are far more vulnerable and exposed than we realise, and perhaps the very depth of genuine friendship we find online further lulls us into that sense of security.

The whole issue of trust was one which was very much on my mind a few weeks ago when I was making plans to met Terri in “real life”, my first chance to meet another breast cancer bloggess.  I remember thinking that on the rational side, travelling to another city half a day away in another country, was somewhat risky.  Was I being naïve in trusting that Terri was who she said she was?  We had only known each other online.  We read on and commented on each other’s blogs, had connected on Facebook, had emailed a number of times and I felt a true connection and shared values.  But we had not actually spoken.  I remember thinking quite clearly that in terms of a methodically calculated risk analysis, this would have to be considered rash and high risk.

However, although these “rational” questions went through my mind as I booked time off work and tickets, I did not seriously for a moment believe that Terri would be anyone other than who I had met online.  I was sure she would be exactly who she said she was online.  And of course she was!

After reading Chez’s revelation, it did make me stop and reflect on how trusting I am about what I read and how I connect online.  I without doubt take what my blogging friends write at face value and would not think to doubt that some blogs could be invention.  And how should I apply that to my own blog?  Let’s be honest here – my own tales must seem rather far fetched and I do not readily share personal information to corroborate my experience.  I think I have only ever posted one photo of myself and my name appears only in comments.  How credible is my blog?  A Scottish woman, living and working in one of the most enigmatic countries in the world, diagnosed with breast cancer, treated in Thailand, experiencing so much in all corners of Asia……..  Is this for real? If I were reading this myself, would I believe it?  I am not sure that I would!  But here I am, on a sticky pre-monsoonal Saturday morning in Yangon tapping away my thoughts while the fan is whirring overhead, a cheeky mynah bird calling out in a tree in the garden and a street hawker calling out “brooms for sale” as he passes by our hedge, along our lane. Yep, I am real– (pinches self) though in my PJs but don’t tell 😉

I find that when it comes to online trust, it is similar to online loss.  These new dimensions to relationships and interactions do not have rules or protocols.  We do not have the signs and signals we are used to which enable us to process and evaluate online dynamics. And in many cases we find we are not equipped to deal with the depth of emotion we experience in something which may have been experienced entirely in the virtual world.  Witness the incredible #bcsm discussions as one demonstration of online support and emotional connection in its discussions and debates. It is a new and strange territory, and one in which we find a wealth of unexpected characteristics.

The online world may be a fertile environment for duplicity without consequence.  More than ever we need to be aware of that while developing friendships and connections in the blogosphere. In this complex issue of trust in this new and evolving space, on one hand I know I should be wise in developing friendships.  However, I would rather risk and trust than not.  Otherwise I could well miss out on the wonderful connections and friendships that have been brought to me purely thanks to the online world. And I can’t imagine  a world without you!