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The Unbearable Lightness of Virtual Being

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gordon brainline.org How do we react to life as we know it when that life includes a virtual reality? As I get deeper into the “online experience” – which almost sounds like an amusement park ride – I realize that I have indeed established relationships with people I have never met physically. Despite not having ever been in the same room with these people, I have become involved with them, have worked with them, and have developed friendships.

It amazes me that sometimes I feel deep respect and admiration for these people. Based on my interactions with them, I become aware of their intense humanity and decency. In some cases, I encounter those with whom I do not wish to be associated just as I do in the real world; however, more often than not, I find these online people to be like minded and I wish to be involved with them. It seems to me that human interaction does not have to be actual to be meaningful.

As a writer and editor at Blogcritics Magazine, I have learned to appreciate people for their work ethic, their creativity, their talents, and for their dedication to the craft of writing. This becomes especially important when one of them steps forward, noticing that you are the new kid on the block, and offers something less than advice but more than a casual interest, helping you to grow as a writer and later as an editor. This person was named Gordon Hauptfleisch.

A fellow editor and writer at BC whom I admired and respected, Gordon and I established an online friendship of sorts. While I appreciated his work and editing skills, what always shone through was his inherent decency and that he was a gentleman. I never witnessed him feed into the manic commentary process, but rather noted that he was supportive and never judgmental. In short, he was everything a mentor should and could be.

Alas, as in the actual world, we lose people in the virtual world as well. When we lost Gordon – and I say “we” because many of my fellow writers and editors on BC mourned his passing – there was a void that we knew would never be filled. Gordon’s loss was felt, and everyone had wonderful stories and things to say about him.

gordon linkedinUnfortunately, the efficiency and speed of our virtual world also equates to a measure of ignorance that seems impersonal and grossly inadequate in the human equation. Gordon remains “active” in the virtual world of LinkedIn, where, although his account is “disabled,” we still get bombarded with his image on a daily basis requesting endorsement of his skills. I have been trying to ignore this for some time, even though each time I saw his picture it bothered me on a personal, actual gut level. I felt deeply and truly disturbed by his image mostly because I knew he was no longer there.

Now it all changed today when I was sent an email requesting that I congratulate Gordon on his anniversary at Blogcritics. I guess I could no longer emotionally ignore this virtual charade. I wanted to do something, write a comment on LinkedIn, but I doubted that was appropriate. So that brings us to why I am here writing this now.

Blogcritics is a community and, dare I say, a virtual family. We have our “parents” in Barbara and Jon (please take a look at Jon’s take on this subject), and then we have all the aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, and assorted Cratchits that make up our virtual brood. We work together, support each other, and some of us even interact on Facebook or LinkedIn or share personal emails. The personalities are vastly different and, at times as in all families, we may have a conflict here or there, but we do come together as a community and stick together, especially when rogue elements have tried to undermine our efforts.

Overall, being a part of Blogcritics has been a great and meaningful part of not just my virtual life but my actual every day existence. Yet this episode with Gordon serves as a reminder that we all can recognize as a truth of virtual reality: we can sometimes fall into the digital cracks and, even after we pass on, we still remain a presence, a name in the void, a speck of online light like a distant star in the sky that we see even though it burned out centuries ago.

I suppose I write this to honor Gordon’s memory and also all those who may have passed on but remain an incongruous virtual presence. The day will come when we each will face the same virtual reality, but this unbearable yet inevitable consequence of online life is like a living death, and unless someone can intervene and make a tangible effort to stop it, we no doubt will linger in the ether for all time.

So on your 8th Blogcritics anniversary, I salute you, Gordon Hauptfleisch, and hope you can rest in peace and forgive the online ignorance that no doubt will persist long after we have all passed from our actual and virtual lives to the evanescence of digital forevermore.

Photo credits: Gordon-linked in; virtual head-brainline.org

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • http://www.henrybuell.com/ Henry Buell

    Nice article. The irony of online relationships is that they often expose us to a much deeper and more personal side of people than we see in the ‘real’ world. We aren’t burdened by stereotypes, attire, or personality quirks. These relationships are no less real, and in many cases, are deeper and more personal than many of those we have ‘really’ met and consider friends.

    Great article. Thanks for the read.

  • Jon Sobel

    Really nice reflections (and tribute to Gordon H.) – thanks for this, Vic.

  • Victor Lana

    Thank you, Jon.

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