I Become Invisible
Monday, November 6, 1995 by Dave Winer.
I began last week intensely visible. Dancing in Boston. The first DaveNet party. Hangin with the Coooool Site man. Schmoozing and humming. Floating and playing. Dealing and being dealt.
But I knew things were changing when I hopped on a non-stop United flight from Boston to SFO on Halloween night. A middle seat! My big body just barely fits. To my left, a hefty woman. To my right a young father with a very young boy in his lap. Take a deep breath and I invade another person's space. Who invented this system? How can such a grand person as myself can get so little space? I couldn't breathe. You wouldn't have been able to either.
Go with the flow, I said to myself. Breathe as best as you can. On the other end of this flight is my car, my music, eventually my house, my email and voicemail, my hottub and finally my bed. It'll be coool.
But after the six-hour flight, locked in a single position, a very unusual and awkward one, my body wouldn't straighten out. My energy flow was disrupted.
I learned later that the problem was actually much worse.
I had become invisible!
It's the spookiest thing. Standing at Il Fornaio on Friday morning, waiting to be seated. People come in, stand next to me, the maitre'd seats them. She even smiles at me. I smile back. Coool. I stand there and stand there. I'm OK, not in any hurry actually.
Eventually I spoke up and asked to be seated. Later, the waitress explains the specials, my eating partner orders, then as I'm speaking my order she turns and leaves. I'm stuck mid-sentence. I was going to ask for some bread! Ohhhhh. OK. It's really OK.
I get home, return some phone calls, leave a couple of voicemails. I don't really expect the voicemail system to actually record anything, because I'm beginning to get the picture, no one can see me, why should they be able to hear me?
I've become almost totally invisible.
It got worse.
On Saturday morning I hear from friends about three great parties in San Francisco on Friday night. Was I invited to any of them? No.
From Tootsie -- Jessica Lange speaking: "Just when I think I've found the perfect man, an even worse one shows up, and that's when I make my move."
Good and bad, better and worse are all illusions too. If I'm invisible that's the best possible thing because that's what is. Jessica is looking for perfection -- but she perceives it as being bad. It's the truth and totally funny. That's just how people are.
Let's see how invisible I am.
You may not be able to see me, or hear me, but at least I can make some ones and zeros show on your hard disk. An experiment in existence. A proof (possibly) that I am not an illusion. That somehow this spacesuit called Dave actually is perceivable to other moving bits of space that we call people.
Hello? Anyone out there? This is Dave. I'm OK. How are you?
If you can read this then I exist.
How do you perceive me? How well do you think you know me? Well I have news for you -- I *am* actually just a stream of ones and zeros that show up on your hard disk. Like my Scottish penpal, I may appear to be his mother, or even worse, *your* mother, or possibly much worse -- your father!
Email is a wonderful medium because people can so easily project their own lives onto other people's lives. You know so little about me. I try to tell you what I can. But it's a very small slice of who I am. So people fill in the blanks, pretend I'm just like them, or someone in their family. Sometimes, when people really need to get something off their chest, and the people they'd like to be close with aren't available, I'll do just fine.
They begin "I don't really know what you mean, but I assume you mean this. And I used to know someone who was just like you and I'm very very mad at you now!"
Often these emails go on for pages and pages. But they start with a mistaken assumption. I am complex! No, I disagree with that statement. The rest of your email is based on the wrong premise. Hellllp. Someone isn't listening to this person, and he or she realllly needs to be heard.
Except in rare times of overload, I read every email that comes to me. I only respond if I have something to say and feel there's a reasonable chance that my reply will be understood. Sometimes I have to be blunt -- please stop sending me mail. I also try to thank people whenever possible. And I think I really mean it. Thank you. Please!
I only want good energy in my life. People ask me to help them be heard. Glad to help, when I can.
There's a pragmatic lesson in this whole visibility story. As we communicate more and more thru email and the web, we can connect with more people, we can become more visible. Our ideas travel further and do it much more quickly. But along with this new power, our ability to listen can and hopefully will evolve too.
We can all be more careful, and remember that at the other end of the email connection is a real human being who you may not know very well. Please take all email messages at face-value, and don't infer too much. When your inner voice says "If that were me..." respectfully ask it to stop doing that!
We can all learn more from each other, if we're open to it.
PS: From my sister-in-law, email@example.com, a British slogan: When you assume too much you make an ass out of u and me. Correct.