This IS real life.
Or a facet of it, anyway. One that is very much alive. Communications that happen on Twitter or Skype or Facebook or blogs or whatever are every bit as real as a conversation you might have over the phone or email.
Is there an increased ability for disingenuous sorts to use those conversation mechanisms for subterfuge? Sure. That’s not a new concept, either. The jackasses adapt to the tools at their disposal, and the availability of more and faster tools doesn’t and never will change human nature.
But for heaven’s sake, I’m so weary of seeing people chastise others to “get offline and experience real life” or some such. (The irony, of course, is that these folks often do so using the very social networks they’re disparaging, but hey).
Way back when, we used letters to keep in touch with people that weren’t geographically near, like my Gramma did with her husband during WWII. Then it was the phone (remember the advent of three-way calling?), email, and things like IRC. AOL took chat mainstream, and the internet populated with more and more tools to keep in touch, to communicate, to talk to one another when physical proximity wasn’t possible.
We were okay with the analog stuff to which we’d spent many decades adapting, but we still haven’t wrapped our heads around the virtual side of things, it seems.
Human relationships have many facets. When they’re real, they’re not real because of the things we use to cultivate them. They’re real because the human bond is there, the connection that extends beyond the means. No tool, website, or thingamajig can take that away, and none can replace it entirely. When it happens, that bond between people – either personal or professional – is as real and genuine as the individuals themselves.
Some of that bonding can and will happen outside the realm of sharing the same square footage. It always has. Distance has never prevented humans from growing close to one another (and by some adages, it can bring them closer still). Now we’re tossing out all kinds of shiny new ways to bridge the distance, yet somehow we think they’re changing the very fabric of our desire to be close to other people. And that’s just not so.
Face time is irreplaceable, because humans respond to things like voice and body language in a visceral way. We’re very tuned to those unspoken things and they can be important in forging a lasting bond between people. And I’m all for turning off the phone and the computer to enjoy those in-person times to their fullest.
But relationships are complex and intricate, not linear. Electronic communication can be a very dynamic and legitimate part of them. And when we find people we love, care about, believe in or are interested by, those connections are not defined by the vehicle. They transcend them.
Personally, I’ve found some of the most important people in my life thanks to the web, and it’s the same thing that keeps us connected when we can’t be together. If you can’t or haven’t found that, I’d submit that you’re not looking hard enough. And the rest of us would appreciate it if you’d stop your self-important assertions that “real life” stops at the keyboard simply because you don’t understand, or because you’re not willing to.
I’m not sure what my concrete takeaway is for this little rant, but I hope that if you’re one of those people questioning the value of relationships developed online, you’ll open your mind and find a few people who can explain to you what it’s meant to them. And if you’re one of those who have experienced this, share your experiences with others and explain how much the electronic world has helped you shape your offline one.
I think it matters. It does to me, anyway. You?
image credit: the Comic Shop