We don’t often talk about the loneliness of online life.
For months we don’t notice it.
If my mother hadn’t died, perhaps I wouldn’t have noticed it at all.
We blog, we email, we post, we comment.
My cousin and I were sitting in the back yard, drinking tea. Electronic devices littered the table: laptops, phones, e-readers. She opened her laptop and checked her email. She started crying. An online friend at a Jane Austen fan group had posted a 1,000-word tirade calling her an idiot. My cousin, a scatty reader who prefers history to fiction, had written that Anne Elliott, the heroine of Persuasion, was “a wimp” for not having married the love of her life, Captain Wentworth. She said Anne shouldn’t have obeyed her silly father and the conventional Lady Russell, her late mother’s best friend.
“This is an ignorant misreading of Austen’s morals and manners,” her online friend wrote.
All right, not the end of the world, you say. Any of you who belong to Janeite groups know quite well that they quarrel all the time. They know tiny things about Austen’s books that my cousin would never dream of. They argue for days about minuscule details.
She knows this friend from online poker. Yes, that’s the internet for you.
I know how she feels. Many years ago I shut down the computer during a discussion of The Aeneid in a chatroom on AOL . “Are you crying?” my husband asked incredulously. Yes, I was. I can’t remember what was said to me, but it was vicious.
There is an emptiness and deep sadness in this kind of online fighting. You don’t choose to participate in it, and then there it is. Didn’t you go online to get away from this? Aren’t you seeking “purer” relationships? Since my mother’s death, I have spent less time online, more time outdoors. I don’t want to miss “real life.”
I’m also reading better books now. The time that’s left should be well-spent.
I do intend to join at least one new online reading group this fall. Winter is coming.
I love my online life, and I do appreciate my cyberfriends. Online life can complement real life.
It’s time to reread Jane Austen. Maybe not Persuasion. Anne is a bit wimpish, whatever the Janeites say.
Don’t say I said, so, though.