Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Are Internet Relationships Real?

Doing what I do for a living, I frequently get into that argument about whether Facebook is good for you, or if it's destroying society and ruining our youth.

A few weeks ago at a work lunch, when I was seated beside a co-worker I hadn't met before, I found myself in the argument once again, and this time I decided to deploy a trick I learned when I was a young philosopher of saying straight out, "I disagree with you."  But in hearing her side of the argument I realized that she was coming to it with a completely different set of priorities from mine.  In talking to her, I realized that for her, for something to be real it had to be physical.  She was worried about her kids spending too much time online because things didn't count as real for her unless they involved moving one's body around outside.  Sports, active pursuits like biking or going on long hikes, those counted as real, and those were what she wished her children were spending more time doing.

I argued the other side at that lunch, that internet relationships are perfectly real and not isolating at all, because you are conversing and forming relationships with actual human beings.  Once I realized her privileging of the physical, though, I realized how strange this must sound to her, since I have an equally biased privileging of the verbal.  I think it's true of me that for me, the only relationships that count as real are those where thoughts and ideas are exchanged in words.  (Hello there, by the way.)  Social media is built almost entirely on verbal interations, so for me its as real as real can get.  Whereas for her, because it doesn't involve bodies moving around, that claim sounds preposterous.

A few weeks after the lunch debate I attended a big social media conference, and found my bias at play again.  For one of the first times, I decided to install Tweet Deck on my phone, follow the hash tags for sessions I attended while they were going on, and tweet out my own summaries and perspectives on the meeting.  In addition to sessions with speakers and panel discussions, this conference also had lots of industry parties, paid for by different companies and usually held in some bar with some loud band.  Although I probably should have taken advantage of the networking opportunity, and although I'm sure I ended up missing some pretty good bands, I decided not to go to any parties, but just go home and catch up on the online discussions that continued each night.  The one party I looked into, I didn't stay long, it was just a bunch of people with matching lanyards standing around in an upstairs bar, and I couldn't work out what one was supposed to do there - there was no host apparent, no one making introductions or helping establish connections, nothing in particular to spark conversation.  So I went home and hung out with the people inside my phone.  For me, since I don't privilege the physical, just standing in the same building with a bunch of people didn't count as being together with them at all, if we weren't exchanging any words.  I wonder what my work colleague would have thought about it.

1 comment:

  1. First of all, you installed TweetDeck on your phone and followed the hashtags at sxsw... Wow, so proud!

    Second, I believe these digital dialogues are really no different than picking up the phone. Word are exchanged, connections are made and bonds are formed.

    It's similar to the type of learning style one prefers to use: auditory (hearing), visual (seeing), or kinesthetic (doing).

    Friendships preferences are perhaps no different as some gravitate more to: auditory (phone), visual (digital or written) or kinesthetic (in person).

    I prefer to learn through visual means so I guess it's no surprise I also prefer digital or written connections as well.

    ...and to that I say, there really is no right or wrong, just different shades of the communication spectrum!

    ~ K8

    p.s. IE worked, the RockMelt browser was the prob...