I participate in a number of boards, interact via chat and messaging, and of course use all sorts of web-enabled tools to communicate.
What I find interesting is how many people lurk.
Make no mistake, I lurk, too. But I find that the purpose of lurking is simply to figure out approximately the best time and place to open my big mouth. I have failed at this as often as I have succeeded.
Perhaps my favorite expressions related to chat/forum lurking are the ones like “I just stand in the back and listen.” But, you don’t. You can’t. There is no “back.” Everyone is in the front, virtually pressing noses together, tens or hundreds or thousands of people all at once, all seeing the same conversations, learning the same information. Nose to nose to nose to nose we all sit, a virtual singularity.
Reminds me of the scene in the movie “The Silence of the Lambs,” where FBI agent Clarice Starling is fumbling through the dark, completely unaware that the killer is right in front of her, and, with his night-vision goggles, can see her though she can’t see him. Lurkers wear night-vision goggles. Even when the lights are on, many posters wear masks. Few of us are Clarice.
Stephen King said, in his wonderful book On Writing, “without Constant Reader, you are just a voice quacking the void.” He was talking about the importance, as a writer, of remembering your audience. On chat boards and forums, we’re all quacking in the void. Sure, some are quacking back, but the void is bigger than that. There are a lot of folks not quacking. And no way to ever know if your quacks reached their ears, or better still, informed or inspired them.
So it’s reassuring when someone posts something deeply personal and relevant, quacking aloud into that void, and they get something back. In The Writer’s Cafe, a forum on KBoards, author Mark Dawson just posted how he was able to quit his day job to become a full-time writer. The response was a wonderful display of congratulations, from people who have been there or who very much want to be there in the future. How many lurkers in the dark, people in the light with masks on, and Clarice Starlings wish they could say the same? To make the feel-good story feel even better, Mark was posting while on a family vacation in Tenerife, paid for by his books. To quote my friend and fellow author, George Sifakis, Mark Dawson is truly “living the dream.”
So, while I lurk in the dark with my night-vision googles, nose-to-nose with the other lurkers and posters (anonymously masked or not), and plenty of quacking goes on without my response, sometimes you just have to say “Atta boy!” In the singularity, I guess I’m a Clarice. I respond as myself, write under the name given to me by my parents. Doesn’t mean I’ll always get the bad guy. Doesn’t mean I can’t be the bad guy. And sometimes I’m just fumbling in the dark.
And, no, the lambs haven’t stopped screaming.