Sunday, April 02, 2006

Insides Out.

One of the most fascinating qualities I find in online communications is forced intimacy.

Because humans are essentially visual creatures, non-verbal communication is a larger part of our interactions than we realise. Online, there are no twitches, facial expressions, intonations or pheremones to give clues as to someone's intent. This means that people find themselves revealing more intimate information about themselves than they may initially intend.

I've been guilty of it myself, and as a rule have no issues with it.

Where it becomes hazardous is where two people are exposing themselves mentally, emotionally, without having any physical presence to provide extra information.

As a case in point, a woman I used to chat with years back (and met in person for drinks on several occasions) had a cyber fling with a man in another state. She was in an unhappy marriage with a small child, which she left in the process of pursuing this man.

He was quite happily married with children of his own, and never had any intention of taking any step in the real world towards the woman. As far as he was concerned, cyberspace was cyberspace, and it had no part in his real world.

She was very hurt by this, yet he could not understand why.

Perhaps if they had met in 'meatspace' as opposed to 'cyberspace' the situation would never have arisen.

For someone who has well-developed social/communication skills, this generally has little impact upon their lives and relationships.

For those who are more isolated, or less mature, there are dangers.

One reality that a lot of people tend not to think of is that the internet is one of the most antisocial constructs ever invented.

Why? Because it reduces face-to-face interaction. You can have fun and games with plenty of your closest friends without ever being in the same room. You can have an affair with someone on the other side of the world while never seeing them in the flesh.

It can seem a godsend for the geeks of the world, those who do not relate well in person, but it leads often to confusion.

If you don't have the non-verbal skills, only text, then how can you maintain a relationship in the real world?

I think this is a major problem with a lot of young people today. They are so busy using sms or their computers to keep up with their friends, they don't develop the necessary skills for healthy interpersonal relationships.

What is the solution? Especially when meeting people online is endlessly entertaining - I've made some of my best friends via bulletin boards and chatrooms, so I can testify to that.

How do you educate the younger generation, those brought up on television and videos, and gameboys, xboxes and the like, that there is a much wilder world out amongst people in the flesh?

I don't have the answers, but I do believe that getting them away from the monitor is a good start.

You can fly higher and fall harder in the real world, and it is nowhere near as safe at times as the cyberworld, but it is also so much more rewarding.


At 9:28 PM, Blogger Caz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9:31 PM, Blogger Caz said...

The younger generations tend to use technology as an adjunct to and enabler of their real life relationships. I don't think many of them are avoiding real people.

Think in terms of another example, one that you've alluded to: affairs and I mean the real ones, not the cyber variety. Technology - sms, email, online videos, Skype, even something as old-fashioned as answering machines & voicemail, combine to make having affairs far easier than in days gone by.

I don't think technology is making the young socially incompetent, but it may be leading to an inability to spell or write a coherent sentence, ably under-pinned by our wonderful education system, of course.

At 4:56 PM, Blogger Nick and Nora Charles said...

Caz is absolutely right.

Technology just makes certain things easier. They are not a cause in of themselves.

The juxtaposition of your previous post on moral equivalency and Caz's comment brings to mind the problem of educational equivalency - that all forms of literature are equal.

-- Nora

At 5:37 PM, Blogger Nilk said...

Yet another example of why I should not post just before bed. :)

What I was actually thinking of was a tendency for kids today to prefer texting to talking, for example. My 15yo niece is a classic example.

Also, when we are chatting online, because we don't have the non-verbal cues, it is our use of language that speaks for us rather than who we actually are.

Because of this there is room for misunderstanding, but also for greater self-exposure than we might intend.

Examples or people having online affairs are the more blatant ones, but not the only ones.

If we read the blogs of younger people, we can see a tendency to disregard proper grammar. This could be because of a lack of grammar, or it could be deliberate. I tend towards the former in general, although it can also be used as a smokescreen.

This brings up the issue of how do you know who you can trust online? If you have none of the non-verbal cues that we rely upon to form our ideas as a whole, then what do you use to base your impressions on?

This is more where I was leading.

As it is easier to expose yourself personally online than in the real world, it can hamper relationships.

Particularly if you lack social skills in general.

This is not an autobiographical observation, by the way. I'm thinking of kids whose ideas of relationships are formed by dysfunctional families and hence take media figures for role-models. Any glance at what's on tv or at the cinema will present us with a dearth of well-developed relationships to model on.

When we have a lack of appropriate adult models in schools (I know of at least one co-educational school with no men in the faculty at all, for example), then there is the real possibility that young adults form unrealistic expectations of how a relationship works.

Add that to the instant sharing of our innermost thoughts and feelings online, then it can lead to disaster.

I hope that makes more sense.

At 10:56 AM, Blogger Nick and Nora Charles said...

My folks use texting a lot and you're right, context is everything.

I was out with Nick, his visiting brother and wife one Sunday when I got an SMS from my mother to say my step-father had been taken to hospital for a hitherto unknown heart complaint.

I tried to phone back but just got voice mail, so I texted, "We're at [[themepark]] do you need us to come straight away?"

My mother replied: "No hurry."

Which we took to mean "No, hurry."

Alls well that ends well but it helps prove a point.

-- Nora

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At 9:08 PM, Blogger Caz said...

Nilk - I think my points, though I was not realising at the time, are true for the people we have already met in the flesh, even if it was only five minutes ago at a club (I'm thinking of the young 'uns with the latter example).

However, use of the technology can also be overdone with people we know, as with your niece, for example. Another one for you: my daughter & I use online chat a lot, a bit of emailing, and Skype, just for the novelty of talking. :-D

With people we've never met, whatever the forum, eg, chatrooms (have never ventured there myself), or in the wide world of blogging - yes, how does anyone know, other than over a period of time & development of trust, not at all dissimilar to the real world. Though some people really do jump right in there, perhaps - and this is what I think - not understanding the medium, and putting themselves right on the line with no appreciation for the nature of the technology, and without giving themselves time to get a "feel" for how other people behave on the web, or what the protocols & courtesies might be.

Then there are the exhibitionists, letting it all hang out as a calculated action (eg, a lot of girly-blogs, all about every little thought they have; every sexual act they have; every guy they meet, etc, you know the ones).

Nuances can be a real bugger though - I still recall being dumb-struck by some return comments by bloggers (on their blogs), only later coming to appreciate that they were being jokey with me, but jeeze at the time ... I have had many occasion when I thought I should stop visiting blogs, or having my own, as I just don't think I'll ever really get the hang of it.

Instant sharing of inner most thoughts? Hmm, a lot of people do that, which I find a very curious thing. Do they feel safer to share their *real* selves within the anonymity of the web, a side they don't share with the real people in their lives? Or are they basically just talking crap, a means of venting, perhaps, that isn't an especially good representation of themselves? Difficult to tell.

With teenagers addictively sms-ing each other, I think that's just a way to stay connected, feel included, etc. They don't necessarily have anything to talk about, but they still keep in touch with inane chatter. It's a way of keeping their friends with them & involved, even when they're not there.

I don't think they would view it like that at all though. More like: I just thought of something: therefore I SMS.

At 9:53 PM, Blogger mo0s3 said...

Your right. Its so much easier to text than talk since you can avoid having to interact in that real-time personal level.


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