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Ishmael in Space: Discussing Moby-Dick on the Web November 9, 2011

I’ve never read Moby-Dick. Yes. I’m an English major, and I haven’t read it. It wasn’t assigned in high school, and the quarter system here at DePaul just doesn’t seem to lend itself to a highly involved and intellectual read. I’ve put it off in my private life for other reasons too.  There’s this mythology around the Great White Whale in American culture that is frankly, quite frightening.

“Call me Ishmael.”

I’m sorry, but that’s the stuff of too smart, too challenging, too epic for you Great Works of American Literature.

But when Jen F., a tutor here at the UCWbL, invited me to join a Moby-Dick group on Goodreads, I was soothed. I felt empowered to read. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this website, it’s like Facebook with books. Instead of posting drunken pictures of yourself, you post the books you’ve read or would like to read. Instead of writing moody, emo notes, you post book reviews.  Instead of updating the world on how your cat is taking to her new brand of Fancy Feast, you update what page you are on of the book you are currently reading. It’s way fun.

I was drawn to this idea of virtual Moby because I wanted a support group for this kind of task. I wanted people to offer challenging questions and for an intriguing discussion to get started. I didn’t want to go it alone. Plus, we’re only reading fifty pages a week. That is so totally doable, for with a community to be held accountable to, I can and will get the reading done. Trust, if it were up to me, I would have put the book down already.

We’re only on the first leg of our voyage , and I’m not saying I’m writing the group off, but…it really seems like put downs and one-uppings are par for the course on the boards. Someone can write a three paragraph post about a fabulous idea, but if there’s one incorrect fact or unorthodox idea, it gets preyed upon in the discussion and everything else gets ignored.  Further, these people are seemingly glued to their computers, so by the time I go to check back on a topic (five hours later), people have moved on and have posted “over the Ishmael as Biblical figure business” or something to that effect.

I think this says something about the way we communicate on the Internet. People were never so short or eager to trump in my Lit classes. Sure, there would be intellectual “fights” but there’s something about that veil of computer screen anonymity that makes denizens of the internet get a major superiority complex. I mean, you can almost never be wrong on the internet. In a class, you can misspeak or be challenged by someone. On the internet, you have Wikipedia and dictionary.com to check your facts and your word choice. If you do make a mistake, you edit your post and poof it’s gone. What mistake? So, people get cocky.

I still like the idea and am not leaving the group. I want to read the book because I want to know why it’s so damn important. I need these cocky readers to propel me forward. But jeez, I am really going to have to develop a thicker skin.

What do you think UCWbLers? Do people speak differently on the Internet than in person? Am I crazy for even bothering with Moby-Dick?


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