Craigslist Missed Connections: Anonymously ISO Experience

Craigslist Pictures“I’ve missed the connection with DC.”It was a simple statement – concise, to the point and honest. It was posted anonymously on Craigslist Missed Connections, addressed to a city that, for this writer, made anonymity more than possible.”Sometime last year,” he wrote, “I thought it would be a rockin’ fun-zone idea to move somewhere new… Washington, DC… I’ll bet I find some great folks there–maybe a boyfriend, too. Flash forward to the present… I simply find myself disinterested… in most of the people here.”I am always fascinated with Craigslist’s Missed Connections. Craigslist provides us with the ability to sell that old futon or find a new apartment. But where the for sale and housing sections are more or less direct ports over from traditional print media, the “Personals” section, free and online, has stripped down economic and logistical barriers that in the past have limited many from participation.Take this post, for example. The man continued by offering himself as an “enigma” while talking to his “neo-panoptic” Craigslist audience about the frustrations he had with the gay community in DC. But cutting through the thicker words, the theme of the post was clear: He was lonely.The reaction from readers? Fierce:

“Perhaps you should look at yourself and your attitude as the reason you’re such an unhappy person.”

“Sadly, you’re a victim of your own epistemological trappings. Consequently, your ontological discourse is empty” (26 yr/old; ages included when provided).

“DC is the swamp of the self-important. Based on your Missed Connection, I think you’ll do alright.” (26)

The conversation quickly degraded to complaints “lambasting the local gay community” (25). These posts seemed only to reinforce the anonymity of the original author and left one individual asking, “Is this a discussion about DC?”

“I’m just a bit disappointed with DC. And it’s not for my lack of trying…” (23)

“I really expected [DC would provide] the opportunities to find someone that I clicked with… However, I have been extremely disappointed in what I’ve found.”

“For you people thinking that DC will be the ‘be-all-that-ends-all’…PUH LEEZ!” (42)

“DC is a s—hole – an expensive ghetto full of uptight east coast types.”

“The gay men in this city need to get over their insecurities… It’s the insecurities that keep them out of meaningful relationships.”

And of course there was advice: Go to the bars, don’t go to the bars, join a club, give it time, try online services, play it hot, play it cool, keep your eyes open — he’s out there, and sadly, “how about you all just, you know, shut the hell up?” (22) or “move” (27).Think about this: All of the posts above are in response to another post. This would have never happened in print media. Because it is free, Craigslist bends in the direction of an anonymous forum when it needs to. But even more important to the topic at hand, why are all these people responding directly, and with such rage?In Joan Scott’s article entitled “Experience”1, she reminds us that “Experience is a subject’s history” and that “Language is the site of history’s enactment” (34).”Since discourse is by definition shared,” she continues, speaking to the way in which we use language to share our personal histories, “experience is collective as well as individual” (34).With this in mind, we can see the ways in which a post like this can both confirm and contradict the collective experiences of the gay community. The original post is made on the premise or expectation of a warm and inviting community (certainly the experience of some) that remains somehow elusive (the experience of others).These collective experiences of the gay community are important. “Identity is tied to notions of experience,” Scott writes “[but] both identity and experience are categories usually taken for granted…” (33). In Scott’s perspective, modern group identities are built on collective experience. It is then easier to understand why a community’s fractured understanding of itself could result in a furious online dialog.The identities we use are normalized. They are normalized by the experiences that give us access to their use. Gay men, for example, are socially required to experience attractions towards other men. In the wild, the identities are complicated and nuanced, influenced by the effects of a specific local community. I have spent a great amount of time researching this effect, and while not surprising, it is interesting to see the community conversation in a digital environment.This young man’s complaints apparently resonated so deeply with the experiences of many here in DC, that otherwise unrelated individuals felt compelled to respond. But when participants are anonymous, who are we having a conversation with? Is it the larger gay community of Washington D.C.? Or is the conversation with ourself?Consider this unrelated message, posted several weeks later:

“I’m sorry that D.C. hasn’t been kind to you. You seem like a really nice guy. I wish we’d met sooner. I should have asked for your number before we parted ways. Don’t know what I was thinking. Wanna grab coffee or something before you leave town? Let me know.” (31)

  1. Scott, Joan W. “Experience.” Feminists Theorize the Political, 1992. []

Jed Brubaker is a graduate student at CCT researching identity and technology. Read more at www.whatknows.com/blog

Jed Brubaker

Jed Brubaker's background involves professional and academic work in the social sciences, marketing, technology, and the arts. He received a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Utah, and is a former master's candidate in the interdisciplinary Communication, Culture and Technology (CCT) program at Georgetown University. His current research interests included digital identity and anonymity, Internet culture, and computer mediated communication. Read more on his blog at www.whatknows.com.