Posted by at 2:55 pm  Atelier, ON the STREET
Feb 182007

Meanwhile, it is Sunday and a day of rest, and I reflected on this work of writing, especially about our imagined meetings and those that happen face-to-face. I also wrote the following letter today:

Mary-Kay Wilmers


London Review of Books


Dear Editor,

Jenni Diski on ‘Second Life’ (8th February 2007) describes her experience of parallel time spent in/on this online ‘social networking’ site on the web, as being like most religions where we get at least another go at being. – “Meanwhile…” would actually be a better way of describing this parallel time; meanwhile I leap my ‘avatar’ (name for parallel Second Life comic strip beings) from place to place; meanwhile I try to have a parallel conversation with another Second Life incarnation; meanwhile in real life my fingers work the keyboard in front of my screen, and biological life goes on. But religion it is not, not any I know worth the name, where the essence is the struggle to escape the – “meanwhile…” and come “face to face…”.

However, don’t dismiss the Blogosphere’s “meanwhile…” experience of life too lightly. The world of instant online publishing is very big. Second Life has 1 million subscribers, but Myspace has 155 million, and Wikipedia lists more than sixty (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites) with growing multi-millions of subscribers on each. Something huge is happening in publishing, and, forget Youtube and other image and video broadcasting, it is mainly about publishing the written word.

Thinking about ‘Imagined Communities’ and going back to Benedict Anderson’s seminal 1983 work on the subject, all publishing engages us in the – “meanwhile…”, time-out of biological life spent writing or reading. The Blogosphere is another instance of an imagined community, except they call it ‘virtual’, that is located somewhere between the novel and the newspaper. It therefore interests us, or ought to, ‘us’ here being the LRB imagined community. Is it all the – “same sad little world” made over and over as Jenni Diski concludes?

Much of it is. Surveys show that Blogosphere writers are mostly one-day wonders who give up almost immediately. Sites typically also have ‘nano-audience’ numbers of readers, and even fewer who interact. As Jenni Diski found  in Second Life most people there find conversations, where everything has to be written to be said, too much trouble. The inhabitants of these worlds are characterised, and frequently both appear as ‘avatars’ and behave online, as young and easily bored.

But it is early days in this online publishing “meanwhile…” world, and we are all only beginning to find our way. For instance, we are still only just learning about etiquette, how to greet; must it always be – “Hi…”, or can we also use – “Salaam aleikan, peace be with you” (although a bit of a mouthful I admit)? We are also learning about having meetings, including about how to have sex. The erotic appeared the one bit of Second Life Jenni Diski found genuinely exciting and worth exploring further, but sadly she lacked enough of the local currency – she said.

And perhaps we are in the process of growing up, and discovering other novel aspects of this extraordinary “meanwhile…” world, for instance:

1. The ‘leaky’ writer/reader relationship online, meanwhile real dangers lurk, such as for the iraqi woman writer of the ‘Baghdad Burning’ blog who must not reveal her name for fear of being killed (http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/).

2. Instant online publishing, meanwhile the ‘deep’ is being constructed through manipulating functions such as future and past times of publication, or an ascending or descending order of online entries, creating new book forms. Take for example the imagined community of writers currently engaged on the online publishing of the Samuel Pepys diaries (http://www.pepysdiary.com/)

3. Writing the world of our imagined meetings on Second Life, meanwhile we may, if we wish to learn how to ‘elevate’ our writing, also arrange to meet, receive criticism, work “face to face…” in real life.

By the way in real life this letter will also be posted to JD.

Max Mackay-James



Next week ak and mmj are also meeting in London ‘face-to-face’. It is an essential part of walkingtalkingwriting. It is an essential part of life.