Saturday, April 21, 2012

Lonely, but afraid of intimacy...

A couple of days ago I took 19 minutes and 48 seconds out of my day to watch the following video, and I strongly encourage you to do the same!

If you have chosen not to, then maybe you will come back to it one day soon. I hope you do.

In a time when we celebrate every new technology, and at the same time hear messages about turning technology off before it destroys us, I think this TED talk oozed common sense. Sherry Turkle isn't telling us to turn off our technologies, but rather to have a good think about our attitudes toward them and assess where we stand on the continuum of 'lonely'.

I am one of those people for whom technology has been very helpful socially. I suffer from agoraphobia and find new social situations extremely confronting (familiar social situations are just regular strength confronting). Technology has afforded me a safe place to initiate connections with other people. A place where I could edit my responses and learn to mediate those thoughts which all too readily pop out of my mouth before I even know I've thought them in face-to-face communications.

For people like me, with a very faulty communications filter, technology is a godsend.

Even so, Terry's talk got me thinking about my relationship with technology and whether it is affording me better relationships or rather the illusion of better relationships. I think, to a great extend, it is the latter.

I have a very good friend who I would never have met if not for the internet. Ten years ago, last month, she set up a list on yahoo for parents like her. I was a parent like her and on screen we had a lot in common. Not long after finding the list, a group of us met up at a children's play centre (probably ten years ago this week), and from there friendships developed. Some of those friendships still exist, others have gone by the way. The internet was the fertile ground in which a seed was sewn which has changed countless lives.

This friend is my closest friend now, and really the only person from all those thousands (and there have been thousands) of connections I've made on the internet in the past ten years, who I see in person regularly.

Some friendships - when put to the test of real life connection, couldn't hold their ground. Sometimes because of differences which were too great to overcome. Sometimes, sadly, because it's far easier to project a persona in the two dimension world of the screen than it is in the three dimension world of life.

I have learned a lot from test flying friendships on line. I've learned to be more accepting of difference. I've learn that my every opinion is not going to be appreciated. I've learned to try to think before communicating. I've learned that while you can delete stuff you've said online, someone, somewhere has probably already taken a screen shot or copy and pasted your words and they will live forever - and often out of context.

I've learned you can actually feel an emotional connection to a person you've never met and are never likely to meet.

I've learned that some people take their online relationship with people far, far more seriously than their in-person relationship with people and will be more hurt if you delete them from your friends list than if you never ring or visit them, even if you live in the same city.

I worry about my children's experiences of relationships mediated by digitisation. They see each other at school, but if they can't Skype one another, then they're not really friends (yes, I've had this said to me by one of my off-spring). If you aren't on Steam, you don't exist. True story.

There is a safety in digital intimacy that doesn't exist in face-to-face intimacy. A virtual (((((HUGS))))) costs very little, while a real life hug means taking the risk of being given the WTF look. And, you can give a virtual (((((HUGS))))) while thinking, 'Oh, get over it!' because no one can pick up on your conflicting non-verbal messages.

Likewise, you can tweet on about how wonderful your children are, and at the same time scream at them to leave your, the hell, alone and no one will know.

You can update your Facebook status with all the photos of you at a get together with people you only know from the internet, and don't catch up with casually except for the occasion tweeter's dinner, while you cry in your isolation. People will still think your life is one big party and the epitome of success.

Yes, the internet - even with all the predators we hear about constantly - is a safe place to conduct perfect relationships and show off your shiny side, no one need ever know the truth.

That is not to say most people on the net are not genuine. I have met many of the people I've known over the years on the net; many of them are the same in person as they are online, if a little more self-conscious. However, many live double lives and it shows because they do fear intimacy and they do prefer virtual (((((HUGS))))) - they feel safer and happier on the other side of a screen, even if they are lonely.

This post was edited before publication to hide all my spelling and grammatical errors and the fact that my hands and brain often don't co-operate with one another...


Veronica @ Mixed Gems said...

Like this post, Sif. I didn't get to watch but will try later. Real life is about taking risks and doing the physical hugs too. I don't belittle the benefits of on-line relationships though. They've helped me a lot the past year or so. I think it's just important to be aware of both aspects.

Sif Dal said...

That's it, the net is a tool we can use to grow and to benefit us (especially those of us who feel socially awkward), but in order to use this tool properly and with skill we have to be aware of how it can be dangerous to us as well, socially and psychologically.

Jayne said...

So true. I feel that overall the net has helped me find a lot of people (such as yourself x)who I never would have met either. I don't see anyone else from that group you mentioned either, but am still in contact online with a handful, and I still value that. Mostly its awesome because I met you and that probably wouldn't have happened otherwise (you know, the joke about how my teen goth self and your teen Salvos self would've run screaming from each other?! Goes to show that appearances can certainly be deceiving). The internet is also how MASC got started really, so even though I know many of those ppl 'irl' (always a weird term for me, because I don't see the online world as 'not real' as such)the internet facilitated those meetings. Im also quite socially reclusive in some contexts
(dont like large groups which I find intimidating
) so the net has def helped me this way. I think its only a problem when ppl remain behind a computer screen and lack face to face connections. Someone mentioned to me at a party last night-a gathering of mostly school mums- that it was funny that in my recent status on FB "how did we meet" most of mine are from online! Interesting peoples perceptions, cos that hadn't stuck me as odd at all until she mentioned it.

Sif Dal said...

Jayne, you are particularly good at converting online connections into face-to-face friendships (I wish I was more like you in this way, but I don't seem to have the 'knack'). You seem to find that balance quite well, I think.

Good Job!