I do believe that not just the cyber world, but technology in general, has served to undermine truly intimate relationships. This post is in response to a fellow bloggers post Thoughts on Social Networking.
Take texting for example. My friends all own cell phones, as do I, but when they need to talk to me they text instead of call. They’d might as well send an email or IM online. Emails give you more space to work so that you can say what you need to say in the specificity that a text message wont allow, and at a lesser cost. IM’s are real time, so fewer words may be spoken with greater emotion and miss-communication and confusion may be cleared up on the spot.
But they text me instead. I hate it. Whats the point in having a cell phone when you’re not going to talk? I hate texting. Its so impersonal. So distant. So non-friend-like. It’s like seeing bulletins on the side of the road as you pass by: they come, they go, they mean nothing but to inform you of something you likely don’t even care to know.
Being able to hear voices and communicate in real time is a significant step forward in having a real friendship with anyone. You can hear their inflections. There is no time-delay to custom make you communicant, cushion your emotional connotations, manipulate your words and their interpretation of your meaning; and in general there is no time to be fake. Being fake is exactly what the digital world has done for us. Emoticons don’t even need to reflect true feeling.
A great deal is lost in the cyber world. Emotionality is one of them. Emoticons and cyber-slang hardly make up for it as we all know how easy it is to lie and exaggerate. When was the last time you actually did “laugh out loud”?
Don’t get me wrong. Email and IM and even text-messaging are tools and they can be beneficial in their own right. But from my perspective, these distant and non-empathetic mediums of communication aren’t just used, but they are actually preferred. They are preferred precisely for what makes them so limited in the first place: an unwillingness to be open and real (in a world where “being real” is actually a character trait). They are heavily relied on as the primary method of exchanging thoughts.
What is the worth of a friend who wont even talk to you? Who only associates in meaningless and unemotional ways? Who only associates with you in person and meaningfully when you happen to be around, but avoids you in any meaningful way all other times?
Cyber communication is powerful and highly useful. But a cyber-friend is as meaningless as the 1’s and 0’s the cyber world is made out of. The 1’s, 0’s and the cyber friends that make them are equally in abundance and are equally as easily replaceable. Cyber-communication only has meaning for those who are real, and only those who communicate in real-time and in person or in voice are real. A cyber-friend is only a friend if they are a friend in real-life, too.
People play the cyber game because they don’t want to get close. They need the validation of numbers, of quantity. And they go to sleep unhappy at the end of the day because none of their relationships have a shred of true meaning. They are afraid to get out in public and meet real people, to open up and get close, to risk failure and risk rejection. Without risk there is no worth and there is no gain.
I will admit it. I have social networking profiles, too. But the only people on my friends-lists are people that I actually and truly know in real life. I have no other soul on there. And I reject all requests unless I know them. I don’t even have to know them well, I just have to know them outside of the cyber-world. I have to have the true potential of developing a real relationship with a real person. The internet, texting and the like are merely tools to build a friendship, but they can never be the basis for a friendship.
I have heard stories of real people – siblings, in fact – who texted one another though they were in the same room at the same time. They did so because they wanted to communicate about issues that mattered to them but at the same time didn’t want to be emotional with one another. That is self-contradictory. They avoided one another because it was a sensitive issue and they had fought with one another – digitally. Their issues would never be resolved unless they quit being fake, quit hiding their feelings, and actually spoke to one another. They wanted to resolve an emotional conflict unemotionally.
I am reminded of people who criticize online dating. I would take no shame in it, personally. At least online you get to know “something” before you meet in real life. That is quite unlike meeting someone in real life knowing absolutely nothing and risking everything. I’d rather meet a respectable girl on a dating site than some drunkard slut at the bar. Yes, of course there is always a risk of meeting a perv or a jerk or a creep online. But guess what? You run the same risk meeting people in real life. Believe it or not, artificial intelligence doesn’t yet exist – everyone that you meet online exists in real life, too. Except in real life you don’t get to learn something about them ahead of time before you make the plunge.
I do, however, criticize those who look for their love across the country or the planet. What’s the point? That is another distant, meaningless cyber-relationship that stands no chance of going anywhere. On some level that is exactly what people want, though. It’s zero risk. It’s an illusion and a fantasy of happiness – of potential – that runs zero chance of ever succeeding and zero chance of ever threatening the sanctity of that fantasy. And the “relationship” lasts until one or the other gets bored of it.
My point is simple. Tools are great as tools. But they can easily interfere with and undermine true intimate relationships. Digital communication can be a tool to keep friends and family closer, and it can be a detriment to a relationship at the same time. More communication is not better communication. Quantity and the reliability of the medium has been over emphasized and has replaced the quality of communication and the intimacy of the medium.
It takes people far too long in life to realize that the real world is outside their front door. Its not on twitter, myspace, voice-mail or text-message archives.
I have been taking the bus recently. I see faces of people who look miserable all the time. Many regulars. These people lighten up and smile a wide smile when a friendly guy such as myself starts talking to them. Some of them look uneasy and would prefer that I text them instead, as they distract themselves from my conversation by staring at their phone. I see people who admit to being alone and lonely in life and feel charmed by having a new friend to talk to.
You know what they all have in common? They all wear headphones and listen to iPods to entertain themselves while riding the bus. Primarily, I think, it gives them an excuse to avoid real people, a justification and excuse for why they feel alone, and makes perfect strangers feel awkward about initiating conversation with them. I see twenty lonely souls sitting next to each other avoiding one another, carrying on fake, unsatisfying relationships with people on their cell phones and laptops that they dont even know and probably never will. An over-populated yet utterly lonely world. How sad it is.