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Is the Internet reality?

I've been having thoughts about the LJ friends list function and online friendships in general... I've been stewing on this for a while, and It's time that it was said. kl1964 wrote an entry a few days ago about the concept of online vs. "reality" disturbing him. I have a lot of mixed emotions about this, and I'm going to unleash them.

I've been online since 1991... I was 19 when I first started playing around. The landscape of the online world has changed a lot since then, but the general atmosphere hasn't. There are people who take online interactions very seriously, and real friendships and deeply loving relationships can and do develop between them. I'm not talking about people who play around with Net sex. I'm talking about people who bear their souls. It's why the Net (like any other situation where people bear their souls) can tear a marriage apart. It takes the partners away from each other and toward someone else. The offended party can blame the Internet and say that it isn't real; but it is very real. Too real sometimes. When I meet these people in person after getting to know them so deeply, I am almost never disappointed. It's hard to deceive another person when you are busy being yourself, your true self.

On the other extreme, there are people who just play. They are online to have fun, to get a rise out of other people. They likely do the same in "real life," but the Net makes it easier to be much more ruthless about it. It's possible to be absolutely hateful online without having to take personal responsibility for it because you can hide behind a pseudonym. When I talk to parents or kids about online safety, I tell them that I am generally as distrustful of someone using a pseudonym--and often more so--as I am of someone who is just guarded about his/her personal information. Pseudonyms can protect, but there's a fine line between self-protection and deceit. My reaction to the pseudonym generally depends on other behaviors that go along with it. For example, I expect to see pseudonyms or nicknames on Livejournal; but I don't expect to see an outright unfriendly attitude.

I tend to be very open about myself online. The fact that I'm older by a number of years than a good bit of the LJ community can make me seem "harsh" at times--someone accused me of that recently in reference to my posts on the blindpeople community. I can't figure it out. People seem to mistake bluntness for harshness. I don't sugar-coat things; but I'm not unkind to people. Sugar-coating things might seem sweet; but I find false sweetness incredibly unkind. I don't pull any punches. When I think something, I say it, especially if I think that one person is wronging another. That's just how I am. I grew up learning to take responsibility for my actions, even if I was wounded. Being wounded is no excuse for mistreating someone else, and if I mistreated my family in my wounded state I still paid the consequences for it (and rightly so). Unfortunately, I was often the only one expected to play by those rules. Perhaps that makes me too angry sometimes, and I tend to expect other people should learn a few of the same lessons. If I can learn them, why can't the next person? I am no more or less capable of learning right from wrong; and the only impact of me being the lone rule-follower is that I am a snot, a holier-than-thou. I don't believe I am anything of the sort. I'm just a person, and if I have to play nice and not hurt people then the rules should apply to anyone else. Maybe it's childlike, but it's what I believe. And sadly, what I see online a lot is that people don't play nice at all, and they get very angry whenever anyone expresses anything that's well thought out. They call it "harsh" and tell you to quit talking to them.

Is the Net "reality?" Sadly, it often is. People backstab you, spread gossip about you, etc. It's often just a text version of reality. Maybe a shadow of reality, but a form of it nonetheless.

The LJ friends function... I have always taken it at face value. If I add someone to my friends list, the action has meaning for me--and I assumed for the other person. In some cases I understand that the person is too busy for the development of a "friendship" of any sort (e.g. docbrite, who is a published author and who I added because she lives in New Orleans and I was interested in following her updates after Hurricane Katrina. But for the most part, when I friend someone, it means that I am open to the possibility of developing some degree of friendship. I have no reason not to be. Unfortunately, I have recently learned that it's apparent that not everyone shares my opinion of this function. There are some people I've had on my friends list at their own request who list their MSN info in their profiles but refuse my contact because they think my comments in a particular community are too harsh! Then why express interest in being on my friends list at all? It completely boggles my mind!

Sometimes when I read some of the drama that transpires on LJ and on email groups, etc, I do wonder if this kind of stuff happens "in reality."

Sadly, it probably does.

Unfortunately, I've also seen the other side, where the Net becomes unreal.

Maybe this is just a different version of "reality..." I saw a news article a couple of weeks ago about a couple faking the birth of sextuplets in order to get money. They didn't use the Internet. Many people who do things like this do use the Internet. Their actions aren't always so elaborate--sometimes they're just posing to see how people react to different personae. But this, too, has been done in "reality." There once was a lady who spent a year disguised as a person of another race just to document her experiences. These people are called con artists, actors, researchers... It all depends on their motivation. So in this way, the Net is just another form of reality. To call it "unreality" is a deception--more self-deception than anything else. Why do we need such deceptions? Do they shield us from some kind of pain associated with admitting that reality is something far different and more threatening less understandable than what we think it is?

End of profundity.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 3rd, 2006 01:23 am (UTC)
Hi, I just wanted to say I agree with a lot of what you said about the Net and real life. Like you, I take my net friendships seriously and want to try to get close to those people like I would if I met them in real life and liked them. I learned the difficult way that not everyone wishes to do that with the net, . To me, net friendships are no different than those in real life and I often keep forgetting that not everyone thinks the way I do. Also, what you said about people taking well thought out responses to things to mean we have an attitude problem is all to true also. I have more stuff to say but since I'm rambling, I will end the comment.
May. 3rd, 2006 01:15 pm (UTC)
More to say?
Oh, please do say it, especially if you've been able to get LJ to cooperate! (LJ has been irritating me lately!) I enjoy reading these discussions... I would have put this on kl1964's LJ, but I thought I would exceed the character limit so posted it here instead.
May. 3rd, 2006 01:28 am (UTC)
Everyone should play nice
And BE nice too of course.

Of course if the Net is reality, and it does meditate reality for a lot of people, then you expect that.

What about people who are too nice or who are only nice as long as they get something out of you?

I make friends on LJ when I want to read their journals and I find their writing interesting. Text is often the strongest and most powerful part of reality for me.

Oh, I see what you think about false sweetness. Diabetes of the soul maybe?

I think the play nice/be nice rule applies to most people on your friendslist. And on mine. Communities are a different matter. There's a whole mob mentality.

The Net has done a lot of lonely people very good because of the possibility of non-judgemental friendships which they may not have outside the Net. And we all get to see life in faraway places. The world becomes smaller this way.

May. 3rd, 2006 01:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Everyone should play nice
Hey, I like what you said!
May. 3rd, 2006 01:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Everyone should play nice
I will probably write another long entry this afternoon about all of this... I hope you won't mind if I borrow a couple of things from your comment. I really like them.

"Text is often the strongest and most powerful part of reality for me."

This is precisely why the Net is such an equalizing force for me. It stops all the nonverbal junk that I can't see and puts everybody on an equal playing field. I've been able to learn the meaning of :), ;), etc; and if someone nonverbals me on the Net, I know exactly what it means and have access to it. If I misinterpret someone on the Net, I'm free to admit it and say, "I'm sorry," and life can go on and I don't have to feel shame about it unless I'm dealing with game-players--and I've found recently that there are game-players and grudge-holders online as in real life. Sadly, I have to point back at myself because I can also be unforgiving at times. Why am I unforgiving...? Something to ponder...

"The Net has done a lot of lonely people very good because of the possibility of non-judgemental friendships which they may not have outside the Net. And we all get to see life in faraway places. The world becomes smaller this way."

Absolutely! So why do so many studies show that the Net increases loneliness/isolation? I've been thinking about this for a long time. For me, Net participation INCREASED my prosocial behavior, gave me the courage to go out and try again. I wonder if it has to do with the type of things one does online, the type of environments one seeks... Certainly if one seeks empty Net sex, just as if one seeks one-night stands over and over, the deep soul-loneliness will increase as it does even though a person might be surrounded by people all the time. On the other hand, if the person uses the Net to meet the needs of the soul, then the soul-loneliness decreases. (I'm defining soul incorrectly perhaps here, and it might merit some discussion. The command to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength" has always baffled me a bit. What, exactly, is the soul, and what is the heart? Here the passage does not refer to the physical heart.
May. 3rd, 2006 11:59 am (UTC)
friends function
I often wish livejournal would completely rename the "friends" function, as it gives people the completely wrong impression in some cases. Some people get friended because I'm friends with them, some people get friended because I vaguely know who they are, some people get friended because they write interesting things that I want to track, and some people get friended because I want them to see a protected entry for some reason. If the function was called associating, or something, people may have a little less misunderstanding of the level of personal commitment made through that one action; you can associate yourself with another person for any number of reasons, from true love to vague interest to strong dislike. Anyway, to sum up, just because someone friends you on livejournal doesn't mean they like you or what you have to say. It may just mean they're interested in what you're saying, without liking or approving of it. Friending someone is the quickest way to get their updates every morning.

By the way, you fall into the vagueley know you category. Just in case you were wondering.
May. 3rd, 2006 01:34 pm (UTC)
Re: friends function
I agree with you about renaming the friends function... It would have been better named something else. But I can hear the debate now: "Associates sounds too professional." "Acquaintances sounds too distant." "Friends is appropriate for most of the audience." It's certainly possible to filter one's friends page, and so if necessary I could create something like family, friends, acquaintances, etc. But that only does me good personally.

Btw, thanks for the tip off. I recognize you, added you back. Didn't realize you had an LJ. Welcome aboard!
May. 5th, 2006 05:52 pm (UTC)
While online relationships can be very gratifying, I think there is too much tendancy - especially in the blind community - to turn online interactions into one's ONLY reality, and thus, take them seriously. Personally, I could care less what complete strangers have to say, be they online or otherwise. If they don't know me, and their opinion is of no value to me, then why should I attach any meaning or significance to anything that happens on the net? I'm not saying that this excuses rude or malicious behavior. I guess I just don't see why I should care if somebody else chooses to be rude or offensive when there are so many more important things to worry about than if somebody hides behind their keyboard and acts like a coward.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah Blake LaRose
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