(Title borrowed from the SF book entitled, The Man In The High Castle, by Philip K. Dick.)
It strikes me as peculiar that some of us are sitting transfixed before our monitors attempting to conduct interpersonal relations with one another. We sit safely in our ticky-tacky houses, insulated and protected, as if in castles made of stone and conduct “conversations” with one another utilizing ethereal text and graphics. Some of us fall in love here, while others feud and fight. Some of us enjoy the manipulative aspects of this medium and never worry about the hurt that this may cause. We are SAFE here, knights in etheric armor. “E-sticks and e-stones may break our e-bones, but e-words will never hurt us.” Yeah, right!
We are sheltered within an electronic medium, a womb of illusion, and we are all electronic spirits haunting this Digitaland. We are ghosts in a binary asylum wandering from page to page in search of…what?
Now, “real” ghosts have been known to frighten “real” people. Real ghosts have been known to moan in spiritual pain and whimper our names into our sleeping ears. But, can they really feel? Do they inhabit a disembodied spirit realm, analogous to this World Wide Web? Of course, everyone knows that ghosts are not real, but we are E-GHOSTS and we ARE real. Can e-ghosts have emotions, too? Yes. Are they lonely, as so many of us are, in this unreal reality? Yes, again. Can e-ghosts scare us, can they hurt us, and do they shout out our names in the middle of the night? Ask them. Will they walk through our cyberwalls, through our e-defenses and punish our e-hearts? Yes, of course they can and will; but they can also give us the joy of a chuckle and a smile, and a warm heart that fills our day. E-ghosts are not real, some would say, but others always swear by them.
I do not know what you may think about online relationships, maybe you think they are too cool to even think about, but I, on the other hand, am skeptical. Without the physical cues associated with meeting someone and then maintaining a substantial relationship (whether just friends or otherwise), the body language factor is completely lost. Therefore, it seems to me that one cannot really develop any kind of intimate relationship using this e-medium. It may be possible to have a friendly relationship with someone, after they have met in person, and after all the gaffes and communication mistakes have been made, but only IF there is a relationship left to sustain.
It is my contention, that online relations are no substitute for the “real” thing. It is only a way of initiating an understanding between people who may have similar interests, but as time goes by, it seems to get to a point of no return rather quickly. They initial zest of meeting someone who is extraordinarily like you starts to flatten out, because of the inability to communicate using all the senses. Misunderstandings abound in a chat session, through e-mail, or instant messaging. Even with all the emotional aids, e.g.; emoticons, dynamic displays, smileys, winks, etc., communication breakdowns abound that could be alleviated by just one in-person meeting. Someone who is relatively new to the online meeting experience will especially exacerbate these breakdowns.
For example, let us posit a scenario:
Let’s assume that one wishes to develop only friendly relationships with another, a “just friends” type of affinity, but the other person wishes more; how is one to tell? Is the frequency of e-mail an indicator of growing emotions? Is an IM chat that starts to lag a signal that things are sliding down hill? Can smiley faces REALLY show ones true feelings and thoughts? I lean towards the idea that this is an impossible situation to resolve, because I really don’t know the art of Internet communications.
Let’s amplify this hypothetical model. Someone wishes to fall in love with someone else using the Net as the meeting place, but the other only wants to be “just friends”. How do we tell? Because of the increasing anonymity and fraudulent behavior that one experiences here in Netsville, a game of Internet hide and seek seems to be played out. One doesn’t really know who one is talking to, nor whether or not that other person is even real. The emotional response one receives from the other person seems hollow, vague, and synthetic. If one wants to find that special someone, that perfect “soul-mate”, how in e-heaven is one to know that something “real”, is actually occurring? How long should it take to ferret out the truth of the experience? So… how can one possibly fall in love, here in Digitaland?
As I stated previously, online relations are no substitute for the real thing, but we all know that setting up a physical meeting is fraught with perils. We should all know, by now, the requisite protocol for such an adventure:
1. Do a Google on them.
2. Talk to each other first by audio (and video if possible).
3. Meet in a public place during the day.
4. Take a friend.
These safety precautions lesson the danger of meeting some whacko.
Still, how does one get there from here, if initially, all the social cues are completely screwed up? Misreading what is written in an IM or e-mail and then having unrealistic expectations could lead to frustration and anger. The hopes of this being the right person, or the anxiety that it isn’t, contribute to a miserable friendship and the eventual dissolution of a potential life-long understanding.
This e-medium is a wonderful way to MEET people, but a lousy way to keep a relationship that goes beyond simple chats and smiley faces. But, I may be wrong. What do you think?