Monday, September 20, 2010

The new reality of communication...

So, I was haunting a favorite messageboard yesterday when a poster mentioned that for the first time in his life, he was "friendless".  He said the only people he talks to are online.  He has no local friends.

I considered that for a moment, then came back and told him that I think online friends should "count".  After all, I met my husband online.  Granted, we did eventually meet in person, but we started out as online friends.  And the relationship was every bit as real offline as it was on.  Otherwise, how could we have ended up in front of an altar?

The guy came back and agreed that online relationships have value.  But he no longer has many friends to hang out with.  And that's when I started thinking about how the Internet has changed communication.  It used to be, if you wanted to make friends, you had to get dressed and go out into the world.  Sure, you could talk to them on the phone if you wanted to, but generally speaking, you had to meet them in person first... at least if you expected the relationship to mean much of anything.

With the advent of the Internet, that kind of interaction is no longer necessary.  Now, you can walk into your computer room, sit down before your monitor, and reach out and touch someone... anyone at all, anywhere in the world, at any time of the day.  And you don't have to get dressed, comb your hair, brush your teeth, put on makeup or drive anywhere.  You can just plop down in the comfort of your own home and have a chat.

This phenomenon seems to be a double edged sword.  On one hand, it makes it easier for some people to meet others.  If you're comfortable with online conversation, there's no need to ever be lonely.   On the other hand, it's pretty hard to replace face to face communication.  Moreover, I've noticed that since all of this high tech gadgetry has become available, peoples' social skills and manners have taken a nosedive.  It's impossible to drive anywhere without spotting someone on their cell phone.  It's impossible to dine out without someone checking their email on their smartphone.  Instead of writing in proper English, a lot of people have taken to Internet shorthand, which has eroded the language somewhat.  Shoot... because of the computer, I've heard that a lot of schools don't even teach cursive writing anymore.

Still, I'd be lying if I said I weren't grateful for the Internet.  Without it, I would have had a hard time meeting my husband.  I love him dearly... And given that we were in two very different states when we first met, I realize that the Internet made it possible for us to meet when we did.  But I do sometimes remember the old days, when forming relationships took a lot more effort.  I wonder if today's generation will even know how to relate to real people the way that older folks did.

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