Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Musings of a Mentat

This post title is something I also considered as a possible title for the blog as a whole - referring of course to the fact of my username on the internet forum commonly known as the Playground, Thufir. For those who are unaware, the name Thufir comes from the novel Dune, by Frank Herbert - Thufir Hawat is the mentat in the service of the Duke Leto Atreides. Dune is set in a distant future, some time after some sort of conflict between humans and artificial intelligences, leading to the axiom "Thou shalt not fashion a machine in likeness of a man's mind." And so, to fill the gap this left, mentats arose, these being people who, having received appropriate training, could effectively act as computers, at least to some extent. To those who know me, it should not come as a great surprise that my response was "Man, I could totally have been a mentat with the right training."

Anyway, I've sidetracked myself - quite impressive, first paragraph of my first blog post and I've already gone off on a tangent - as I said, 'Musings of a Mentat' was one possible blog title I was considering but decided against. Some other possibilities were suggested to me by friends, and I might end up using those as titles for individual posts as well. Now this all neatly segues into what I want to talk about, which is the actual title of the blog.

The title, as you should be able to see, assuming I haven't somehow made it unreadable by fiddling around with the background and text colour and things, is 'A Dinosaur, Not a Spaceship'. This refers to a sentence in a blog post made by my friend Buttercupliffy on her own blog (I don't know yet if I'm going to completely adopt here the principle I use on the Playground of never using people's real names when I talk about them, but it's a distinct possibility). The sentence in question was "You're just putting a different box on your head and saying you are now a spaceship and not a dinosaur." My immediate response on reading it was "I am so going to quote that out of context." And indeed, so I just have. However, the context and the meaning behind the metaphor are in fact rather significant, which is why I just named my blog after it.
As a sidenote, when she subsequently asked me, I did indeed say that I was a dinosaur, not a spaceship.
Well, actually to be precise I said "I'm a dinosrawr. RAWR!" The alternative spelling is in deference to a past discussion on the Playground.

Now one of the difficult things about coming up with a title for this blog was that it's not really about anything in particular. I'm just going to use it to voice (Figuratively speaking) my thoughts on whatever subject I happen to have been thinking about at the time, whether that be chess, maths, Gilbert & Sullivan, books, TV shows, films, video games, music, work, or just life in general. In the sense of a common phrase, I will be donning many different hats as this blog goes on. Or, in terms of my title-inspiring quote, I will be putting many different boxes on my head and declaring myself to be many different things.

On a deeper level, the context of the quote is, as I said, also somewhat significant. Buttercup was talking about alter egos, the way people can put across different personas under different circumstances, and that is something which has had a great deal of relevance to me, particularly over the past three years, because of one big thing: The internet. The reason it's particularly the past three years is because of the aforementioned internet forum, which I joined in March 2008, having been lurking for about a month while I tried to think of a decent username.
The obvious link here is, of course, that I present myself differently online to how I do in real life. I think the two are converging somewhat of late, possibly because thanks to some excellent friends both on- and offline, I've become more comfortable about aspects of myself which perhaps in the past I would only have let out in the relatively safe and anonymous environment of the internet, or possibly because those aforementioned friends have simply increased my self-confidence, allowing me to more freely express myself. But while the two personas may be converging, the fact that they started out different and separate (Though obviously similar) remains significant and there remains something of a dichotomy between my real life and my internet life. A dichotomy which I may risk breaking at this point.

(Oh, as a sidenote, in case anyone's wondering, my level of verbosity and the sporadically sesquipedalian nature of my communication is not a difference between my online and real life personas. I talk like this in real life as well)

Sidenote passed, I return to my point ("Meantime Apollo plucks my by the ear/ And tells me to resume my story here.") You may be wondering how posting a blog risks breaking the dichotomy between my internet and real lives any more than adding Playgrounders as facebook friends, inviting real life friends to join me for Playground meetups, or inviting Playgrounders to come see me in shows (All of which I have done). And the difference lies in the scale and degree of potential contact between the two. On facebook, I am friends with both Playgrounders and people I know offline, but the two are unlikely to interact significantly. While not unheard of, it is rare that people hitherto unacquainted strike up conversations and get to know each other on a mutual friend's facebook status or photos. Additionally, I only have so many Playgrounders as facebook friends. At the meetup, likewise it was only two real life friends meeting those Playgrounders who came to the meetup. Little contact. Inviting a friend to the show, well, that was one Playgrounder who would possibly have met a few fellow G&S people afterwards. And both times she was too busy to come anyway, so it didn't happen.

This, on the other hand, well. I'm going to put a link to this blog on my facebook profile, and I'm also going to put it in my signature on the forum. Anyone I know from either could come to it. Not to mention that I may mention people specifically. Curiosity is obviously a possibility. OK, maybe I'm over-estimating how interesting I am. But maybe not! I might mention specific threads on the forum, people from my real life could go find them. My two lives could start linking up all over the place! Scary times.

Now you may say, "Ralph," (The name Ralph Pocketwatch is because I played Ralph Rackstraw in HMS Pinafore and I really like pocketwatches, and so on my birthday, one friend called me Ralph and another called me Mister Pocketwatch) "Ralph, it's true that this could happen. But it's hardly likely, now, is it?" And the answer is, no it's not likely. But it's possible, and I'm paranoid. I am, in the above paragraph, venting my paranoia for your amusement (At least, I hope it's amusing). The extent of the contact between my two lives hitherto, other than the above mentioned instances which I instigated, is that a friend of a friend who I met once at a birthday party met and became facebook friends with one Playgrounder I know.

The final point to explain is of course, why this worries me so much. I rather like mixing my friend groups sometimes, just to see how they react to each other, and certainly some I would expect to get on rather well. I thought about this for a while and realised it's basically that the forum, the Playground, is, to a certain extent, 'my place'. My thing. If all my real life friends suddenly jumped onto it it could be rather weird. Should any of you wish to join, I do not wish to discourage you - it's a lovely forum community. This is more of a knee jerk reaction on my part. It's not even like I write anything there which I wouldn't want my real life friends to know about. I may have occasionally said some unflattering things about people I know, but I'm pretty certain they won't end up reading this blog. And if they do, I've made over 4500 posts on that forum, good luck finding the incriminating ones! :P
Ooh, a further thought - it could be some level of me feeling insecure and worrying that if my real life friends and forum friends got together, they might end up liking each other more than me, and I would lose my status as one of the in-inverted-commas 'Cool Kids'.
Because I'm totally cool.
(Actually, the concept of the in-inverted-commas 'Cool Kids' is a subject on which I could quite possibly write a blog post, full of anecdotes from my schooldays, if I can remember any)

So, in short, my worries are totally irrational, but then to quote Tom Stoppard, "If rationality were the sole criterion for existence the entire universe would be one gigantic field of soya beans!"

So, this has been me, rambling about titles and friends and paranoia. I hope it afforded you some small amusement or at the very least avoided being relegated to tl;dr territory. (tl;dr = Too long; didn't read) (I genuinely have no idea how long this is - one of the reasons my internet and offline personas are converging is because now at least I generally try to write on the internet just off the top of my head, so it'll be more like a real life conversation. So while this isn't a full-blown stream of consciousness, since I did take the opportunity to go back and add the odd sentence to the paragraph to which they were relevant, rather than sticking them in later on when I thought of them, it's still pretty close, with the result I'm not entirely sure what or how much I've written, though I'd hazard a guess it's pretty long)


  1. hiya :-)

    I ken what you mean re the forum-invading by friends. I have a secret forum that no-one knows about, and if everyone suddenly did know about it, I would have to delete half my posts, because my text-voice is different when no-one who has any prior expectations of me is listening. Not embarrassingly different, necessarily, but I seem to think that it's courteous not to confuse people too much by being too many different things? Idk.

    I reckon people need their own spheres (on and offline) to explore their voice. In fact I think I'm wary of people who don't seem to have much of a private sphere. I lost touch with an Indian lady from work whom I considered one of my best work-friends, because she shared an email account with her husband and *encouraged* him to read her emails. If you don't know the bloke at all, what can you say that won't possibly be misinterpreted? "Hi, how's work?" How can you be *friendly*? I wonder if that's actually an example of what I was talking about, or of the related principle that appearing to demonstrate a preference to one half of a couple over the other, when both are present, is awkward and I'm socially conditioned to avoid it.

    Anyway, I can see how having your own sphere to explore your voice is potentially more than an academic exercise, if you find a bit of yourself online that you like and want to translate to RL (or even to somewhere else online, like forum-to-facebook).

    (By "you" and "your" I mean "one" and "one's", which are not words I can type with a straight face.)

    Are you speaking from experience re. the meh caused by friends from different spheres liking each other too much? Baking Ex-Housemate seemed to take a certain pride in having accidentally introduced me to Special-K. If I found myself getting annoyed at not being the cool kid anymore, I'd try and channel the feelings into a learning experience, the lesson being that Other People Have Lives And I Don't Control Them, which is something I should get embroidered on a teatowel.

  2. Have you turned off editing comments? I can't edit that previous comment to either change the link to ncaleague rather than memorablename which I thought would link to my Wordpress profile rather than the test site - or to put "Sushi" at the end.

  3. I think my worry about friends forum-joining is irrational because in my head it's kind of like suddenly they're everywhere taking the whole place over, when in fact they'd still be restricted by the fact one can't post on a forum that quickly, and they're vastly outnumbered by the existing community. It'd probably be pretty cool if some of them joined, I just don't necessarily react well or rationally to change.
    Anyway, as I said, my two personas are kind of converging. I don't think I talk much differently online than off- except insofar as I talk differently depending on who I'm talking to. Though I suppose there might be a difference with people who have no prior expectations, but of course I've been on the Playground long enough that people DO have prior expectations.

    Since you mention transferring forum-to-facebook, I realise I didn't specifically mention in the post that facebook is an odd one in that while it is on the internet, I mostly consider it a real life thing. I keep track of my real life friends on facebook, and my forum friends on the forum, except that I also have some of the latter on facebook and some of them don't post much on the forum any more.

    I was not speaking from experience. I don't know for certain if I actually have that insecurity, it was just a random thought which struck me somewhere between soya beans and paranoia, so I went back and added it in.

    I have not turned off editing comments, but it may have been off by default? I don't know, I only set this up last night and I didn't look at all the settings.

  4. I once had a fairly different online voice than I do in real life, but they converged quite some time ago. Any of my posts in the forums is rather as I would phrase my response in real life.
    In fact, I'm told by friends that my particular lexicon seems a century out of place... I'll admit to learning about half of my native language from Victorian novelists.
    Good to see your blog up and running though.

  5. HIYA! =D

    1. Excellent blog, especially opening it with Dune. I think I need to crack open that book again. I have a nice ratty copy from a charity shop. Oh and I am actually reading The Book Thief so I will finish that first =p

    2.Yay I got a mention (and I notice a new follower, this makes me happy) =DDD

    3. I understand what you mean. I did join a forum for a while (postcardsecrets) but didn't actually let anyone know (except a couple of people found out and then found me) where I could just vent when I was going really bonkers (it was a few years back) and I totally didn't want people to know that I was on there. I stopped going on about a year later but it is nice to be able to be a different side of yourself when you aren't in the reading vicinty of the people you normally talk to (or the IRL and the forum friends in your case) but I find it is always so hard to think up a new name =p. Actually thinking up new names is hard fullstop especially when the one you want is already taken.

    But I ramble and digress.
    Good bloggings to you sir, I shall keep an eye on this =D

  6. Well, obviously I wasn't particularly trying to conceal the fact I was on the Playground, I talk about it sometimes, and having thought it through more I'd actually be pretty cool with RL friends joining.
    But that said, I'm still not going to be like "You guys this forum is amaaaazing you should totally all join it!" And not just because I don't talk like that.
    And yeah, coming up with different names is hard. I don't generally have a particular desire for anonymity, I just like having different usernames for everything and it has been known to delay my signing up to things while I try to think of a decent name (Cases in point: the Playground and this blog).

  7. Helloo :)

    I also extend hearty congratulations on your joining of the blogoshpere. It gives me an opportunity to use that word, for one. I am currently trying to sort through two months worht of happenings and photos to update DokkyoAnna, so we'll see how that goes. but then, that is an entirely different sort of blog.

    Some of this blog reminded me of me so much... not that I have ever been that involved in a forum, but the whole paranoia of friends liking friends better than they like you thing. I have mostly come to groups as a fringe member or latecomer, so then it doesn't come up, I'm just glad to be accepted at all. But the mingling of groups has come up a time or two. Sometimes it ends happily, some times it ends happily for them and with a kind of 'oh' for you. But then depending on just how happy they are it's sometimes worth it :)

    Speaking of paranoia and the feeding thereof, I may, whenever it was that you had that meetup, have googled a bit, searched the forum for the meetups and skimmed posts until I worked out who you were from your tone of voice :P I don't do it to meddle at all, and I haven't looked at your other posts (though now of course I am tempted to read all 4500+) I just like to explore the internet. I'm glad I guessed right, and that does support your assertion that you sound the same online as you do in real life :) Sorry I'm such a creepy stalker.

  8. Oh dear, I'm jumping on the blogging bandwagon as well, but I love reading my friends' random ramblings ^_^

    I definitely know how you feel with the worry that friends from two separate friendship groups might meet up and like each other more than you and I've nearly had it happen to me before, but situations changed and things turned out fine luckily.

    Also, I feel very honoured that I am one of the only two people you've invited along to UKitP meet-ups (and the fact Jonty is the other makes me uber happy too). I did consider joining the forum, but I somehow don't feel knerdy enough to do so.

    Enjoy blogging, and I muchly look forward to even more procrastination times reading them =D

  9. @Anna: I definitely don't mind the finding me on the forum - I don't go to great lengths to conceal my identity other than never mentioning my real name or the real names of my friends. Had you tried at a different time, say around HMS Pinafore time, you might've had a much easier time of it. Since my avatar was a stick figure of me as Ralph and I was gleeing about how great it was.
    Anyway, it's the kind of thing I might do, for no other reason than that I like knowing things so no worries.

    @Elendilkitten: You should feel honoured! Although it was really just because the meetup happened to be in Sheffield. If/when we have one in the Newcastle area, I'm just inviting EVERYONE. Well, everyone I think would be interested.

  10. Yay, hopefully I shall be around permanently for any future Newcastle meet-ups =D

    (Also, what's up with the time signatures on these comments? 8 hours behind...hmm)