Monday, April 30, 2012

beyond the hum and glow

are you really my friend?

in portland, maine, at the portland museum of art, photographer tanja alexia hollander is attempting to address that question through a photographic view of her cyberspace friends. ed and i went over on saturday afternoon and took a look .

hollander asks: who are my friends? are cyber friends real friends, even those people i've never spoken to face to face? her focus is on the cyberspace world of facebook, specifically her own hundreds and hundreds of facebook friends—old friends, new friends, professional friends, deep connections and the more superficial ones, and finally the friends she has never laid eyes on before, friends she has never met in person.

when i first see the words friends she has never met in person i immediately want to slap some quotes around the word friends in that context. how can someone you don't know, someone whose eyes you've never looked at except, perhaps, in a photograph, possibly be a friend? but i stop myself and don't end up adding the quotation marks after all because i am beginning to see there is value in some of those friendships in the internet realm. hollander, too, is basically optimistic about the power of social networks.

hollander traveled all over the united states—eventually she'll travel the world—on "a modern day odyssey" to visit and photograph a fraction (200 photos) of her facebook friends and "collapse the intangibility of cyberspace"for this, her first, exhibition called are you really my friend? during her trip she met many of those friends for the very first time. her project idea was to reach across time and space to physically connect with friends she knows well and friends she doesn't know at all except for on a computer screen.

this exhibition is nothing like the usual "please do not touch"deal in art museums—this exhibition is hands-on, and that's always a treat. some of the old school portraiture (she used a hasselblad)—high focus, wide depth of field, long exposure, deadpan expressions—of hollander's fb friends are magnetized to walls so you can touch them and move them and group them and rearrange them any way you want (which i did) in your exploration of what it means to be a friend. for example, you might put images of people who were photographed with their dogs in one group, couples in another, people in their living rooms in another, or make a cluster out of folks in their kitchens. or you could sort them by age groups or sex.

in her exploration of the meaning of friendship hollander invites visitors to answer her questions—which change regularly and are posted on a wall like a fb wall—including how important is face time? how has social media made you more social? which are collected by using sticky notes and attaching them on the wall.

the day we were there the question was can you be friends with someone you have never met? many of the answers were yes and of course. there were a lot of it depends 

an exhibition like this is certainly thought-provoking. plenty of ponderable questions are raised: are the friends we meet on the internet real friends? can cyber friend connections become real and personal? (i am only talking about adults here, not teenagers talking to strangers—that's a whole other (scary) topic altogether.) and, taking it even further, are the people on fb and blogs even real? how can we tell if they, and the subjects they write about are real (unless, of course, it's labeled fiction) or merely inventions, their worlds complete fabrications?*

the answer is we can't. without doing what hollander did—visiting every friend (i would love to do that)—there is no way to be absolutely sure, is there? it's freaky and bizarre that there are people who live in a make-believe land they pass off as real, and they would have to be freaky and bizarre people, or just unimaginably pitiful and lonely and craving attention.

final thought: you know, i believe if you read a person's words long enough, and their voice breaks through loud and clear, you won't have to suffer being repulsed by the smell a fake, but you will instead be able to sniff out and recognize the scent of someone genuine. there is a body living beyond the computer's hum and glow: flesh and blood make words on a screen and, conversely, words on a screen make flesh and blood—blood that flows warm and red but also circulates its own hum and glow back through a distinctly true heart.

*note ~ have you now been totally spooked into wondering if i am even real? i can tell you yes, i am really real. really. (and i am sure you are too.) you have my word on that. what, my word's not good enough? then pack up the wife or husband and come down east to maine for a visit and see for yourself.


Cottage Garden said...

Thank you for opening up this thought-provoking debate. Hollander's exhibition sounds great and incredibly ambitious in its concept!

I have no doubt that all (hopefully!)of my bloggy cyber friends are real. I have met a few of them and indeed consider them to be friends. I feel very much that the immediate community I blog with are totally genuine, like minded people and I am richer for my connection with them.

You can never of course replicate real friendships here i.e. people you have known for a long time (and many of my dearest friends are from way back when, and even schooldays!) but social media has revolutionised how we see and manage our friendships.

Great post m.


m said...

thanks for your thoughts, jeanne. i am only just beginning to grasp that these unusual relationships contained within a well-lit screen can be genuine. i am warming to the idea that a blog can foster relationships. it is a tiny group, a superb group, and that's what i can handle and still be able to live my life. it is all so time-consuming. but i do love my little writing room and you wonderful people.

Monica Devine said...

Wish I could view this exhibit. FB has definitely fostered meaningful relationships and I feel confident I can sense an authentic interaction. The downside is when I observe someone eclipsing the real human interaction happening right in front of them in order to respond (immediately) to unimportant, flimsy messages...but that is becoming the acceptable norm.

m said...

i hear you, monica. it's the distracting nature of the trite and trivial that gets to me especially, as you say, when interactions of substance are going on. is that going to be the future of human dialogue (can that even be called dialogue?), happening so fast that meaning and depth are smothered in favor of instant drivel? i will lament, whether these changes are acceptable or not...already am, perhaps.

Jayne said...

Ah, yup, what Jeanne said. (Wish I had seen the exhibit!) I don't find, though, Facebook as an effective vehicle to get to know people I otherwise never really knew. I guess that sounds a bit strange, but FB seems to me as trite as Twitter. However, if we already know an FB friend, then FB can act as an enhancement.

"[...]there is a body living beyond the computer's hum and glow..."
It will be two years of blogging for me come next month, and in two years of doing so, without having set out to do so (without fully understanding the blogging community) I've found some really amazing souls around the world, whom I do consider friends (I've met one, and personally know others prior to their blogging exploits). Blogging can be (but isn't always) akin to journaling, and how better to get to know someone than opening that precious notebook? I do believe the genuineness of those bloggers I've come to know in cyberspace --wouldn't hesitate to personally meet any one of them--I think it's fairly easy to spot a fake.

And I'm so enjoying getting to know you, m! :)