An Online Betrayal: Were We Ever Friends?

exhausted-woman with head down at deskThe internet is my friend.

It is a great thing; it is a terrible thing.

I have won jobs through email; I have lost jobs through email.

It has given me a site to write this bookish blog.  As favorite bloggers close down their blogs, I have become increasingly frantic about finding new blogs. The good ones are few and far between.

Blogging is an old-fashioned, if rough-hewn, activity.  In terms of  the internet, blogs are “virtually” as polished as Montaigne’s essays or Pepys’s diary. The opinions and arguments are expressed at greater length and are better-developed than the short, snappy bits on Facebook and Twitter.  Amateurs toil in their spare time to share their opinions of books, movies, or politics.   I am talking about the tens of thousands or millions (I don’t know the numbers) of amateurs who love to write.

But the internet is a peripatetic community of the lonely and restless. We look for a connection we don’t have in our real lives: in my case  bookish friends!  For a few years we post on book boards; then it’s Yahoo or Google discussion groups ; then the online communities fight about Edward Said’s brilliant memoir Out of Time (politics, Jerusalem, and Palestine) or even Jane Austen (a source of great contention); the groups break up; they move on to  Goodreads; Twitter;, Pinterest, etc. .

It makes my head ache to think about all the electronic blips that mark our online lives.  Is the blog I deleted in 2005 still whizzing through cyberspace like a meteor?  How about those discussions on AOL of Wally Lamb and Andrea Barrett?

The internet can bring people with similar interests together.  I keep my expectations low.  I have enjoyed exchanging postcards, letters, and book with bloggers and members of my groups.  At the Southern Festival of Books dozens of members of an online book group met to, attend readings, chat, and go to restaurants.  We were not soulmates, but a certain loyalty united us.  Even if I never see S., C., R. P. or J. again, I will consider them my friends.

Recently i experienced an online betrayal.

An online friend  asked me to visit her.  I hadn’t flown in years and was eager to get out of the Midwest for a few days.  We went to concerts, the theater, and museums, and had a lovely time.  We have stayed in touch.

But recently she attacked me at her blog.  This is the kind of online interaction I dread, and yet we’re all involved in this kind of thing.  I wrote something about a writer she admired who was pulling out all the stops to make another writer look bad.  Then my friend wrote a blog attacking me for attacking the critical writer.

After she posted the blog, she sent me a note with the header:  “Don’t you think you’re overreacting?”   I put it in the trash, dear reader.  I didn’t dare read anymore of it.  I was deeply hurt.

I am finally over it.  She is not a troll.  But isn’t there something wrong with our “break-up”?

It is the classic breakup on the internet.  When people find they are not soulmates, they hit at each other.

Puzzling and sad.   But it makes me question my online activities.  We all make mistakes.  Where do we draw the line?  Should we strive to be more polite so we don’t hurt each other’s feelings?  Should we stop criticizing writers and only write about the books we like?


Everyone draws a different line in the sand.