A friend called: join me and a few blogger pals for coffee? Sure, I said. After all, I like the guy, and I thought I could use an hour just chilling. Seems like a good idea to meet at the nearby Barista, talk cricket, tsunami, travel, this and that. Good time, tasty coffee concoction or two, head home.
If you've been hibernating since the fall of the towers, here's what you need to know: Bloggers are webizens who put their thoughts on public view. It's instant publishing: no editors, no deadlines. Write and be read is the allure. Still, after a while of reading on screen comes the urge to put faces to opinions. Even webizens want to meet each other. So Mumbai's bloggers meet failry regularly, usually at a coffee joint. Word of such meetings is, unfortunately, still available only if you're already a blogger and know where to look. (Desipundit.com, a daily compendium of interesting Indian blog entries, is a good place to check).
The morning after, one already had his impressions of the meet up. Following my modem's blinking lights to his blog, I found this: "I'm sure you are all wondering what happens when a bunch of free-market cheerleaders face-off against one leftist."
His description of the evening: "Face-off".
I'm the "leftist" he meant, see, and the others were free-market types. Hey, you might have thought this was just shooting the breeze, downing brown stuff. But it really was an ideological war.
Now "leftist" hardly mattered, but I was stunned by "face-off". I mean, plenty of my friends think along diverging ideological lines. Yet we meet, chat, argue, play tennis, swap notes on girls (well, in the past tense). What friends do. Never has anyone called this a "face-off."
But then they are not bloggers, or one breed of bloggers at any rate. And somewhere in there is the essence of a modern phenomenon.
The freewheeling world of the Web attracts people looking for the last great frontier of individualism. They like that Wild West quality, the lack of rules. They think of themselves as "very bright" (an actual quote) and forthright. So they are fiercely combative, ready to do battle. My coffee companion that evening saw the world as disparate camps itching for face-offs. Fine, but must everyone else see it that way too?
Yet within the camp, forthrightness and individualism fade like vanishing cream, and kid gloves appear. It's suddenly "we bloggers" -- who can never criticize mediocrity among us, nor even crass behaviour. Because don't "we" think alike?
Almost as a corollary, there's anger that mainstream media -- "MSM" -- won't take bloggers seriously. MSM has its weaknesses, sure. But it has at least a few animals every writer could use: good editors. Because a good editor gives you the best gift you'll ever get: he tells you when you're writing crap (with no kid gloves on). Instant publishing is so seductive, it's possible few bloggers recognize the great worth of that gift. Therefore, I suspect, the resentment of MSM.
With participants bursting with charms like these, bloggers' meets must be unbearably dreary affairs. Right?
Wrong. The next time I met a gang of bloggers, one told me: "Nobody reads what you write! Nobody wants to read what you write! How do you earn a living if nobody reads you?"
No but really, some of my best friends are bloggers.
But seriously: many bloggers, those to whom ego means nothing, are normal, charming people. They talk, bake delicious puddings, like to travel. Some are outstanding photographers. I know one who won a poetry-by-SMS contest. Another combines technology, politics and sharp-but-never-cutting humour in a delight of a blog. Yes, people much like your friends.
Though I bet your friends don't have this cherry on top: a truly endearing tendency to refer to people by web addresses and blog monikers. How can you not like a guy who says, twinkle firmly in place: "Last week in Delhi, I met Ball Toad, Black Pad and Minorly Orbiting Fun Days! We had fun."
Note: this is not a face-off.