One of Our Ghosts is Missing

by Liz Asquith Oct/2005
This article has been read 7,920 times
Computer-climbing montage, 73 kb

The internet is a strange medium: fluid and ethereal, but at the same time a matter of public record. With a few lines of text and sometimes a blurred photograph substituting for the full range of sight and sound and smell, we must, inevitably, project an edited view of ourselves. The quirks of speaking, the nuances of body language, the fundamental minor features that make up a personality – all these are missing, and instead we must turn the lens upon ourselves and set the necessarily flawed results in print for others to know us by. We are all ghosts, vague and badly defined entities given form only by our own self-image

The same will be true for all others we meet online: so we accept it.

An online neighbourhood - a newsgroup, chat room or discussion board – will be peopled with ghosts. But we are ghosts too, and they are our peers. They will not be presenting a full, real-time view of their personalities – but, in the nature of the medium, neither will we. Sometimes we may be able to meet one of these entities in the flesh, to discover whole new dimensions that cannot be conveyed online, but, for the most part, our neighbours in cyberspace are ghosts and ghosts only. Ghosts who will be flawed, or, rarely, deliberately misleading representations of their real-time selves, but, usually, known and predictable ghosts with whom we can interact without needing to consider the real-time part. We know, for example, that Lord Slime can be somewhat pungent towards those with whom he disagrees, and that Horse dislikes top-ropers. We know who can be relied upon to drag a discussion off-topic, who will inject an overdose of lavatorial humour, and who will start threads so pointless and so far off-topic that they become inherently funny. We know who can't spell, who can be unnecessarily cruel to commas, and who can be excessively and inappropriately pedantic about both spelling and grammar. We know who shares our opinions, who disagrees violently with them, and who makes us smile when they come online. We know our online community and, within these ghosts, we know our friends.

Until, suddenly, one of our ghosts is missing.

At first we think nothing of it. People do go offline sometimes. No-one's on twenty-four by seven. They need to eat, sleep and work. Sometimes they're busy, have technical problems, can't think of anything useful to contribute or may even, strangely, have gone climbing. They disappear for a while and then return, complaining about work or equipment failures or waxing enthusiastic about Peak grit or Scottish snow or sunny Spanish bolts. Sometimes they take a little longer but they do, eventually, come back.

Sometimes, however, they don't.

Sometimes, they just disappear.

We're not talking casual drop-ins getting bored and drifting away here. We're not talking well-documented prima-donna stampings-out or pre-planned round-the-world trips. We're talking well-established ghosts with some considerable history suddenly and inexplicably ceasing to be. We're talking the online version of an empty barstool where a regular isn't. We're talking gaping holes where friends should be. We know there has to be a relatively innocuous reason. Somewhere, there's a technical problem. They're too busy. The server's down. The dog died. They'd be here if they could. But, in the continuing silence, an ugly thought rears its head: behind every ghost is a person, a person with an interest in climbing, and climbing, as explained in the disclaimer, is a dangerous sport.

Sometimes, people go climbing and they don't come back.

You can't ask after ghosts in real-time. Going to the police and asking them to look for VS Nick or Squeaky Lemon wouldn't get you very far. If they're no longer evident online, and email doesn't get answers, then who do you ask? It is quite possible that no-one, no-one at all within your online neighbourhood knows the real person behind the ghost. It probably isn't a serious problem. But, says a nasty little voice in the back of the mind, it could be. Faced with one such random disappearance, there is little that we, powerless to act or communicate, can do. Ultimately, we are all ghosts in the machine.

Moderation in moderation.

Zap Gun and Mr. James, 49 kb

The standard of moderation on UKC is usually pretty good - with most of the stuff that gets zapped, it is fairly obvious why. Like anyone else, however, the mods are only human, and they do occasionally miss with the zap gun and take out an innocent bystander.(Al James is one of the movers and shakers behind UKC - and the toast book really did exist!)

Please, Mr Rocktalk

by Liz Asquith

We started a thread and you took it away,
When we all thought it was there to stay
We know you don't like everything we post there,
But we think that to zap it was really unfair!

Now we know that you like your shiny zap gun,
But we thought that our thread was inoffensive and fun
We're sorry for whatever it was that we said
But please, Mr Rocktalk, don't tread on our thread!

We know you don't like loads of mindless abuse,
Or great long descriptions of Brian's love juice,
Or adverts for courses and books about toast,
'Cos we know that both these should be premier posts.

Now we know that you like your shiny zap gun . . .

We know you don't like threads on trivial cr*p,
And that some posts are just inviting a slap,
Some threads go on for far far too long,
And there are some topics that are just plain wrong!

Now we know that you like your shiny zap gun . . .

The openly racist gets zapped as expected,
And bigoted homophobes likewise rejected,
And accusing the mods of sleeping with sheep
Would likewise consign the thread to the deep!

Now we know that you like your shiny zap gun . . .

And anonymous idiots are such a pain,
And it really does say in the rules so plain,
“Please don't be anonymous” - still they're anon,
Hiding themselves though they know that that's wrong.

Now we know that you like your shiny zap gun . . .

But you killed off our thread and we can't see why,
We weren't breaking the rules, so why did it die?
It was interesting, useful and not too long,
So please won't you tell us what we did wrong?

Now we know that you like your shiny zap gun,
But we thought that our thread was inoffensive and fun
We're sorry for whatever it was that we said
But please, Mr Rocktalk, don't tread on our thread!

Liz Asquith is from Northants originally, hence her familiarity with Finedon Slabs and started both climbing and writing rubbish while at Uni in Durham. She climbs most weekends, writes whenever she has time, and would like to spend a lot more time doing both were it not for tthe unfortunate concept called "work" that keeps getting in the way.

She has one major ambition in climbing - should she ever get seriously good (unlikely), she wants to be photographed for the comics doing something ridiculously hard while wearing Ronhills, a cricket sweater and an old-school fibreglass helmet . . . purely to annoy the fashion victims.

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