Have you noticed that even though the world has become so connected with the Internet, almost incestuously so, it’s becoming lonelier? Sure social media and the Internet have made it much easier to reach out and touch someone…anyone. The thing is even with being able to connect with millions of people on a daily basis, we are able to experience solitude in a way that we never have before. It’s like being naked in front of the world and no one noticing.
I guess I had never really thought of this until last night when I was watching television and a commercial came on for online university and it shows all the graduates celebrating via Internet in their own homes and my first thought was, “ That’s sad.”
Don’t get me wrong, online has it place. In grad school, I moved before my last semester and luckily the university offered a few remote classrooms which meant that the professor gave us a syllabus, we met once a week remotely via an online classroom and we turned our assignments in weekly via email. This all sounded very convenient and it was for me because by this time I was a grown up with a full-time job and responsibilities and a marriage. But what about the 18-year-old who decides that it is more convenient and more cost-effective to just stay home and take courses from his mom’s basement? What happens to the “experience” of college? For me, that was the most important part. It is where I metamorphosed from a child to an adult. It’s where I learned who I was, apart from my parents.
Then I started thinking about it and “it” (the slow submersion into solitude and easing into social awkwardness) starts much younger than that these days. I’m not saying that being an introvert is a bad thing. I am just saying that being raised in a cyber world (online k-12, cyber dating, cyber sex, online college, chat rooms, sexting, texting, email, Skyping and Facetime) can make it difficult to live in the real one. We’ve all become so trusting in the Internet but really do we even know whose behind the screen, at all?
I get it. This is supposed to be progress but it feels a lot like going backwards. People are unlearning their basic social skills. Kids would rather text the kid next to them than look them in the eye and talk. People are making up and breaking up via texts and emails. School is not the same experience as when you and I were in school. All of those social norms we learn from facing our fears head on and in person can not be learned without pushing through the in person social awkwardness. People are not interacting with other people anymore. There is a buffer easing into place; the Internet. It’s hard to connect with people with an entire Internet between you.
I know it sounds ironic coming from a grown woman who has made her living and some of her closest friends online in the past 5 years but I think that was all possible because I had already lived in the real world. I attach real world experience to each and every connection but for a kid who was able to bypass all the in real life social situations, I think online takes on a whole new meaning. I think its solitude at its worst. It has taken the humanity out of the equation.
Sure living online is easier; you can be, do, say whatever you want in half the time and without 1/3 of the effort but I prefer the real world. I prefer to face people and talk to them; hear their voices, see their facial expressions and pick-up on their social cues. I like the feeling of initiating a conversation with a complete stranger face-to-face or recognizing the acceptance and love in the face of someone I’ve known forever. I like the satisfaction of pushing through the messy, awkward encounters. There is growth and accomplishment in surviving real life that you just can’t get from living your life online.
It’s only getting worse. The more technology evolves, the faster society declines into solitude. I’m going to be offline more with my family and friends and want to take those very real connections that I have made online and solidify them in real life. So if you see me at a conference, please don’t hesitate to initiate a conversation. I love to talk to people, just ask anyone whose met me. I’ll talk your head off.
I can’t tell you how many people that I have met who I felt a real life connection with online only to meet them in real life and them not say a word to me. The problem is that it’s a lot harder to speak in person to someone who knows your deepest secrets than it is to tell the world those secrets from behind a computer screen. Believe me the first time I realized that the woman I was talking to had read my life story on my blog, I almost swallowed my tongue in fear but I pushed through and she’s one of my favorite people in the world now…who happens to know all of my deepest, darkest secrets.
In many ways the Internet has allowed us to be more open about who we really are but in others, it has stifled us in our real world relationships. We’ve gotten lax and stopped trying. We’ve made things so “convenient” that we are missing all the good messy stuff of life. I like the messy stuff.