Learning from History

This is one of those life-lesson stories that will seem predictable to those of you who’ve experienced something similar, and those who haven’t may find boring, but I’m going to share it anyway.

If you have a long online memory, you may recall something of a blowup between Alan David Doane and myself six years ago. I was writing a column called “The Spinner Rack” (of which only one installment ever appeared) for whatever the latest version of Comic Book Galaxy was at that time. On the contributor mailing list, Alan made a comment insulting Christians I took offense to, and when he wouldn’t apologize, I quit. (Here’s me being dramatic about it on Usenet, resulting in a thread of over 1300 posts, and Alan’s response, continuing in kind. It’s not recommended reading; most of it winds up being about history and religion, not comics, and no one changes anyone’s mind.)

Like most situations of its sort, it was heated at the moment and eventually forgotten. I don’t remember how long it took, but soon enough Alan and I were speaking again. We’ve never been close friends, but we email occasionally, and I certainly don’t bear a grudge.

Why am I bringing all of this up? Because Alan did, in a response to my post against religious intolerance. He makes the point that, surprise, we all grow up and learn more shades of grey. (A lesson reinforced when I read some of those threads from 2000 I linked to above. I miss “hanging out” online with lots of those people, but all of us said stupid things at one point, a feeling I will probably have about this type of post after another six years passes.) Back then, I objected to seeing all Christians lumped into one group; now, I object to the people who proudly claim the name without living the actions and use their creed to bludgeon others.

Like Alan, I also wonder what to call these people online who are a key part of my life. Are they friends if you’ve never met them and only know their words, not even their faces? Are they acquaintances if you’ve shared (what you hope are) deep thoughts with them and known them for over a decade? It’s a puzzlement.

While I’m wallowing in history, here’s another of my claims to internet infamy: I’m the person who got Warren Ellis online. While I was working as DC’s webmaster, I would set up online AOL chats with various guests as part of regular programming. (I managed over 12 hours of live chats a week!) We would offer guests the option of using a guest account or helping them set up their own. Ellis chose the latter, but AOL was having big problems with whatever billing method he was trying to use from the UK. I kept after them, resulting in his first email account. That’s my small contribution to his online empire of today.

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15 Responses to “Learning from History”

  1. Ed Cunard Says:

    I’d say they’re friends if you think they’re friends (how’s that for wishy-washy?). There are definitely people on-line who I feel much closer to than people I see in person on a regular, social basis.

  2. Johanna Says:

    True enough, and everyone should use whatever terms they feel comfortable with. It comes up with me most when talking to people in real life and trying to credit a statement. For example, I sometimes don’t know what to put in the blank “My _____ Dave said that…” when I don’t feel particularly close to Dave but I respect him and his opinions.

  3. Ed Cunard Says:

    In that situation, I’d probably just say “this guy I know” or “my acquaintance” or something.

  4. David Oakes Says:

    “My Internet Stalker Dave”?

    “My Obsequious Lackey Dave”?

    “My Reason for Being Dave”?

    I think it is a fool’s quest to ever try to quantify the ineffable glory that is DAVE [*] with mere words. Like any Truth, it either resides within you, or it never will.

    ([*] – All capitals here, by way of “capital a ‘Art’”, since the familiar cognomen would already be capitalized. It represents the Platonic Ideal of Dave-nesss, rather than any singular mortal expression. We are all Dave, under the skin.)

    On a less serious note, are people whose face you have seen automatically “friend” and not “acquaintence”? Would you share deep thoughts with someone you did not trust and respect, and except a reciprocal level of “friendship” in return?

    Like you said, it’s a question of what you are comfortable with. But trying to say that there is one specific thing that will always tip the scales one way or the other in all situations seems foolish. (He said, knowing full well that he never calls anyone “friend” who he has not looked in the eye.) It is possible to be friends with someone you have never met, and live with someone all your life and never really be more than an acquaintence. And really, we all need all the friends we can get.

    “My Broker is Dave, and Dave says…”

  5. Johanna Says:

    Acquaintance is what I often use, although it sometimes sounds formal and offputting to my audience.

    (Another random historical tidbit: as an elementary schooler, I was part of the crowd in one of those EF Hutton commercials.)

  6. David Oakes Says:

    “Acquaintance” has become very formal, because it feels so “Your Grandfather’s Dictionary”, doesn’t it. The idea that you can know someone without being friends – and not having a specific social relationship such as “co-worker” or “neighbor” – has really fallen by the wayside. I blame the Hippies and all that “Free Love” and “Brotherhood of Man” hoo-hah…

    Great. Now I have to go scouring YouTube for brokerage commercials.

    Oh, and one last thought on “friend”. If someone satisfies all the emotional requirements of being a friend – comfortable around them, always count on them, whatever – then having a physical requirement like “being in the same room” doesn’t make much sense. It’s like saying you can’t be “family” unless you share blood. If the commitment is there, it counts. Even if it doesn’t match what other people say it should be.

    (Just making your blog into a hotbed of anti-Fundamentalist dogma, aren’t I? You are going to have such interesting Google placement for the next few weeks…)

  7. James Schee Says:

    At one point I thought of everyone I talked to regularly online as friends. Though as time went on and I grew up a bit, I started seeing the differences between that especially as my free time dwindled.

    There are still some I call friends, and I hope they feel the same in return.

    For others, I’ll use the term acquaintance, fellow, or peer. (and occasionally compatriot:) )

  8. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    For me, the separation between friend and acquaintance is whether or not I would want to have more than one beer with them after hanging out with them in person once. With people I’ve met online, while we might have a lot in common with comics, the in-person social aspect is key to making the jump to friend.

  9. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Johanna, personally I don’t mind the term acquaintance. If it sounds old fashioned, oh well. It’s a shame that the word has fallen into disuse. I agree with Guy that I have to in-person social interaction before I consider them a friend.

  10. Lea Says:

    So it’s YOUR fault!

  11. Rich Johnston Says:

    And that’s still the account he uses, yes?

  12. Rachel Says:

    I also find myself wondering what to call the various people I know online. Some people I briefly exchange emails with. With others, I may have a long correspondence which eventually ends with us both meandering off in opposite directions. I like “online acquaintance” if I’ve only exchanged impersonal emails or opinions with someone. If, however, I have ever shared with them something that I keep close to my heart and they respond in kind, they become “my friend.”

    It’s tough, though. Tough like figuring out if that guy you’ve been hanging out with for three months now is your “boyfriend” or “just a friend who happens to be a boy.”

  13. Johanna Says:

    James, those are some good suggestions. Guy, I agree — and I think using the term “friend” too easily can risk making it less special. Ed, true, sometimes being a bit old-fashioned isn’t a bad thing. Rachel, ha!

    (Lea, yeah, one of those “how the world might have been different” choice moments. :) )

  14. Michael Grabois Says:

    Johanna, the term I use is “online friends”. Those are not people I see everyday but we read each others postings, blogs, comments, columns, and email enough to consider them above the level of acquaintances. Those are just people you know, not people you hang out with. And there’s a different level of “hanging out-ness” between online and in the real world.

    Incidentally, you’re also one of those who helped me venture out into the scary new world of “The Internets” when I was ready to poke my head out of the moderated Compuserve forums. You suggested some of those “Intarweb” sites and warned me about rec.arts.comics.* (but I went anyway). I got to know people via their postings and became friendly with them, enough to want to hang out in person with them in San Diego (places like the Hyatt bar or Steve and Elayne’s parties in the mid-90′s – the only time I met Rich Johnston, by the way). We even had dinner at that Top Gun BBQ place near the SD convention center that one year when you were one of the “Bitches in Black”. I’d still hang out and have a beer with you.

  15. Johanna Says:

    Wow, Michael, strange you should bring that up. I was just thinking about those days last night. I miss the time when there were fewer, more diverse comic discussion groups online. That dinner you mention was over a decade ago now, though. I’m glad you’re still around.

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