I see you in my stats, though you remain nameless, faceless on my blog. You could be anyone, from anywhere, I realize with some degree of solemnity. Perhaps you are a single-click visitor from one of the countries I’ve never been to: Australia, Bermuda, Germany, India, Ireland, Nigeria, Romania, Slovenia, or Spain. Or, maybe you’re one of many from Canada, the USA, or the UK.
You’ve left no trace in likes, shares, tweets, re-posts, pins, or “press this”es. Which is totally fine: you’re not obligated to. (But you’ve not subscribed!)
You are anonymous, but not unknown.
I note your presence like footprints in the number of daily visitors and views, though I have no way of knowing which one is you. How many pages and posts did you click on, and how long did you stay? And tell me, what did you think of my latest post?
I wonder, sometimes, if maybe you want to comment after all, and make your presence known; but you hesitate.
Would it surprise you to learn that, in your reluctance to comment, you remind me of myself?
Once, I accidentally signed up for a PhD course in English literature as a recently graduated undergrad from a different school. Phychologically paralyzed, I watched as the elevated conversation shot back and forth across the room like the ball in a tennis match. The dozen or so students in the seminar were all brighter and more sophisticated than
me I was. Referencing theory I’d never even heard of, they brought the discussion of literature to a whole new level.
As an auditor of the class, I was expected to participate.
Try as I might, I never could hit the ball, never could get into the action and participate in the game. I was always too late. By the time I’d actually formulated something that was relevant to the conversation and maybe half-way intelligent (finally winding up and ready to swing), the PhDs were on to the next thing. Someone had already taken a shot and hit the ball halfway across the room, where someone else had intercepted it. I didn’t have a chance.
Speaking with the professor, a woman who would later become my thesis advisor for my MA in English literature, I received the following advice that I’ve used many times since:
It’s never too late to contribute. If the moment has passed, you can always return to it by starting your comment with something like, “Back to what we were talking about a moment ago . . .”
It was simple, but profound. And, I realized she did want me to participate, despite my insecurities, my feelings of inadequacy and intimidation, my quietness which was not exactly shyness, but certainly a reluctancy to open my mouth in some situations.
But I’m afraid I’ve gotten away with myself. I don’t think you are sitting, wherever you are in the world, hunched forward at your keyboard, and stressed about commenting. There’s no requirement to do so. And this is not a physical classroom with limited seating where, by your mere presence, you are expected to participate.
And yet, there have been a few who have contacted me privately, to share with an audience of one, the responses to the posts I’ve written, like a silent auditor, wanting to participate by commenting, but are reluctant to.
The first time I opened my mouth in that literature class was notable. I have an image of a PhD candidate, who I felt slightly intimidated by, who stared at me as though she was seeing me for the first time. I said maybe only a sentence, and the conversation continued after that, as it had before. But I’d had a play in it.
The world of blogging is fast. I publish a post, it’s seen for a few hours, and then is largely forgotten about, like a discussion in class. And yet, you might only see it a few days later, or maybe even weeks. Or perhaps you saw it right away, but have been thinking about it since. Meanwhile, I have published a handful more.
I want to let you know: it’s never too late to comment.
What’s more, you don’t need to comment for me to realize you are here.
And I wonder if this post is as much about me as you?
You see, I used to be an invisible online presence, too. I would read post after post on blogs I’ve been following for years, never thinking my presence was seen. (I wonder now if the bloggers I’d read had noticed, if my presence indeed had been noted as I’d clicked around, and read, and thought.)
It had not once occurred to me to “like” a post, to mention nothing of commenting on one. I was just a single, anonymous person, receiving an email in my inbox every so often.
But then, when I began blogging myself, I realized the underbelly of the digital world, one where everything is recorded, noted, analyzed. I’ve since sat, you see, and stared at the stats, analyzing this raw data of clicks, trying to decipher something about you, you who are there, but visible only to me.
And I began to realize the intrinsic value of a comment, how it connects me to a reader. That a “like” is more than a note of approval, but a sign of acknowledgement, like a smile when you pass someone on the street. I’ve an amazing sense of gratitude for each comment, each like.
When this happens — when I publish a post and someone comments or even just “likes” it — it’s like I’ve reached out into the abyss, and someone has reached back.
In reading my posts you are, in your own way, reaching out to me.
(Though you may not have thought about it in that way, or realized I could notice.) And so, reader, I wanted to reach back, and let you know that yes, I have.
This post is to openly acknowledge your presence, and to thank you for being here (even if I’m the only one who will ever see you).
Question: [Please feel no obligation to comment.]