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.
Unfortunately, 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