Someone whose Twitter feed I subscribe to recently posted a status update to the tune of “I really, really detest overfamiliarity from strangers.” I can’t speak for the populace in general, but this brings me to something I’ve been thinking about for the last few years. I’ve been working out of my basement office for last 4 years and my only interaction with other human beings (apart from my wife and kid) have been either during the daily trips I take to Trader Joe’s (my neighborhood grocery store) or online.
With the explosive burst of Social Networking, our lives or rather the parameters for interaction in our lives have become really weird. I’ve always been socially awkard, so it’s no surprise I have got more “online” friends than real ones. It never actually seemed unnatural to me, but sometimes I do step back and try to think about what, if anything, it tells about me as a person.
Online acquaintances are a way of maintaining a disposable emotional squash wall for me. I’ve never met more than half of the people I interact with online. I work for a company spread across half the world and my only contact with them is via IM, E-Mail and phone. So keeping that aside for the moment, most of the people I do prefer to have “conversations” with are online buddies (not the anonymous kind, but people I’ve come across in my double life as a comic book creator / netizen). I know their names, gender and where they are from (I sincerely hope so, anyways ), but I’ve never met them face to face.
Some people I chat with regularly, share my narrow (in genre) yet broad (in topics) interest with comic books, pop culture etc. Some I interact because I really dig their sense of humor. So I feel an affinity with these “web-friends”. Plus remote interaction takes away a kind of personal involvement (social quid pro quo) involved in a face to face acquaintance. That’s a big thing for me. Generally I treat the internet as a shrink’s couch, venting my frustrations or cracking jokes to alleviate my myriad insecurities / complexes / neuroses. Works for me.
There are some downsides though. First thing is over IM, it’s kinda hard to judge the other person’s mood when you initiate a conversation. An accidentally omitted smiley can put you in a tizzy. Sarcasm, that cornerstone of pseudo-intellectual conversations is hard to translate across the net. There is always that “did they say what I think they said and did they mean what I think they said” kind of hesitancy involved in chatting, mostly with recent internet acquaintances. And the Big Bomba – timezone difference. Human beings are kind of slaves to the circadian rhythm. Our moods and perceptiveness vary along with the schedules of our Sleep-Wake cycle. When you’re chatting with someone half a world away, you might have just woken up and be feeling fresh, but the other person might just have returned from a grueling day at office or staving off insomnia.
Weighing the pluses and minuses of online acquaintance is perhaps a subject best addressed in Media theory / Anthropology tomes of the near future. But it is something to mull over for me. Hell with it, I think I’m going to pink crazydude666 and ask him how the weather is in Philippines. 🙂