The past decade has seen a seismic shift in the way humanity interacts as connectivity has increased. In many ways it is the sort of future we imagined as kids, with more and more people carrying computers in their pockets that are all tethered to each other and the vast resources of the internet. How many children of the eighties watched movies like “Wargames” only wishing they had the ability to connect their phone to the computer and interact with others? Now, we all take that ability for granted.
Back in the eighties I experienced the reality of being half-a-world away from many of the people I knew and loved. Moving to another country is still a big endeavor, but not nearly the death nail to relationships that it used to be. In fact, not only have the distances shrunk, but time as well. People are easily able to find and reconnect with people from their past with little to no research or effort.
Things have even gone so far that the generation that has grown up with the internet their whole lives think of themselves as “global citizens.” They claim to have friends all over the world that they met and have only ever known digitally.
One has to pause and question that last step. Not that such relationships are not possible, but one has to wonder about the strength of such relationships. The “lives” we “live” online are not usually the best representation of reality, and any friendships conducted purely online have some increased obstacles.
For now, our online personas tend to be merely the better portions of our lives, filtered for content and affect. As a supplement to a real world friendship, or even the starting point for friendship that goes on to include other interactions, it works. But if all people see is what we chose to broadcast to the world, they don’t really get to know us. Most social media use is solely for sharing the best of experiences, the “eat your heart out” moments, the good news. Not many people are Eeyores online. Or, if they are, they probably aren’t making many “friends.”
This also exposes the hidden dangers of online relationships. The pervasive use of porn, the infidelity, and the poor choices born out of online relationships are a result of something humanity has not had to deal with up to this point in our history. Fantasies and day dreams have always been there, but acting on them in the real world always required a level of turning those fantasies into reality; real world action with real world consequences. Online interaction has a way of solidifying the fantasy and allowing it to grow seemingly without consequences.
In this “Brave New World” we need to accomplish a few key things to avoid major problems. We need to recognize of the benefits and limitations of online relationships. We need to find a way to remind ourselves that people, even when only known as avatars, are real and deserve the same respect and curtesy we give in the flesh. We need to achieve the right level of honesty and transparency in our online personas. And we need to have a higher level of connection to our online personas. (Trolling relies on anonymity. But that is a whole other subtopic.)