Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Virtual friendships

Dan and I have been talking about a lot of things lately. But one topic regularly pops up that really intrigues me. This phenomenon of virtual friendships. Wheedling your way into relationships based on commonality by what you own, what you do, what you enjoy, etc. Instantly, you are linked for life to everyone else who knows and also owns or likes the same kind of car you drive, which type of computer you own, which gaming system you use, what cities you travel to, music you listen to, have the same number of kids, attend(ed) the same school or church, work at the same place, or were at an event you attend probably just to take pictures so you can post them online. Oh, the infinite vastness of the blogospheres. At the drop of a few bucks, purchase of a certain item, or a registration of any type--BAM, instant community!

Do we not remember how to start, cultivate and grow friendships IRL any more? Has our human-ness atrophied this much?

Often this type of community seems so cheap and inauthentic to me. My personal persuasion is that I only become online friends with people I already know IRL. I'm not really in the market for shiny new, surfacey, dollar-store friendships based on me driving a Honda Odyssey van, currently reading Diane Mott Davidson, listening to Christmas music on iTunes, or because I enjoy cooking, travel, and discovering new places.

And I'm even more __________(verb) with people who keep seeking out these disposable friendships and forsaking the real life people right in front of them.

What? You don't have U2 listed as your favorite band anymore? Ba-bye. You decided Apple is not the almighty? Blasphemer--I can no longer IM with you. You didn't like the comment I wrote on your blog and I'll never hear from you again? Um...OK? You misread what I was trying to tell you in an e-mail and you deleted me off your Facebook friendlist?

Or--on the flip side. I don't have any friends, I think I'll go buy some. Hm--if I decide to go to space camp to become an astronaut I'll instantly have tons and tons of friends who are also going to be flying to the moon. Yeah, I like that idea. I'll do that. I don't have as many friends on Facebook as __________(insert name), I'd better fill out more personal information so more people will find me and I can beef up to become a super-friend. People haven't been commenting on my blog, I'd better read and comment on theirs to drum up some traffic. Or maybe I'll re-design, or move to a new "location" and start over.

I think I'm just really disgusted with people these days who are living virtual lives instead of real ones. I mean, heaven forbid the power go out or the internet go down for a few hours or days--some people just about lose their lunch when they're so "unconnected" to the "outside world".

I'll be the first one to raise my hand and admit I've gone through times of addiction to virtual community. It's so empty. I've never been one to look at or be addicted to porn, but I have a feeling it's on the same plane and a lot more justifiable and a lot less taboo than porn. Shame on me. Shame on all of us who fall prey to the cheap electronic relationships we seek and pursue online deceiving ourselves that they will be just as fulfilling IRL as well.

When we step away from our computer screens, we're awfully exposed, aren't we? Are you practicing your human-ness so that if the network ever implodes you'll still be able to converse with people, and want to? Can you still hand-write letters? Communicate with and comprehend people's non-verbals? Weather the rough times with people rather than just signing off and changing your screen name, getting a new e-mail address or blog, and clicking on "Register me now" for a new life?