Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Online Acquaintances

We live in an electronic era. Occupations and lifestyles change nearly as fast as new technology can accommodate it. Just the other day I was discussing the odd nature of the taboo subject of online relationships with my wife.

I don’t mean “sexual” relationships though I am not excluding them specifically either. I was watching a documentary about a group of guys who play World of Warcraft together. Most of them didn’t know each other personally until they met through the game. They were not exactly young either. From appearance alone I could safely say that they were all in their mid to late 30’s.

Watching it was a little painful. Each one of these guys showed traits that seem downright stereotypical of the older, video game player. It was an honest documentary and will not be the solitary focus of this blog but merely an introduction to the concept of online friends.

Occasionally they expressed concerns over admitted the fact that they met online, there was a hint of embarrassment. Admittedly, I felt a little embarrassed on their behalf as well. This really made me pause. Why? I thought. Why in this day and age do we still feel that meeting someone online is a stigma?

I propose the following arguments.
  • You meet people online by evaluating them first by the way they present themselves, contextually. (As opposed to physically at a bar or club were you or they are most likely inebriated.)
  • You share more of your personal life with them then you would because of the ease of the inherent media sharing capabilities of the internet. (You wouldn’t open your wallet while dancing to show them pictures of your children at a club would you?)
  • You spend MUCH more time conversing with them. (You have access to them every hour of every day through social networks, cell phones, e-mail or even Twitter messages.)

If you introduce someone to your friends and tell them that you met them online, there is always the little bit of suspicion. They must be a weirdo or murderer of some type ignoring the fact that they also spend ridiculous amount of time online. It’s hypocrisy.

If you lose a friend online and feel sad about it, you feel guilty and people don’t really show you sympathy because after all, they weren’t “real” to begin with. Yet if you lose the address of a pen pal you had written to once a year for 20 years then people will cry with you.

Is it because it is new technology that is understood but not yet fully accepted? Is it a concern that some day we will choose it over actual social interaction? Eventually that may be our only alternative to reduce the spread of disease in the distant future but is that what keeps us wary? I don’t know for sure. I imagine that the situation is different for every individual.

One thing I do know is that the best friends I have are online. Some I have never nor will I ever meet in person. What if they are being insincere and are not truthfully representing themselves? Does that really matter? Aren’t friends you have in person just as deceitful as those you meet online or even more so because they do it to your face? Even now, I feel programmed to refer to the offline friends as “real” friends.

It will definitely be a quirk we all need to work on. It will take time but I have faith that this electronic medium will be the first great step towards breaking the imaginary boundaries supported for generations by the Babel concept.

Here we all speak the same language. Currently, we argue and bicker but as time goes on I believe we will begin to notice how similar we all truly are.