Being on the internet is not like real life. I saw an article where some psychologist was decrying that recently.
But in her rush to point out the isolating effects of technology, she gives it's ability to truly connect us very short shrift. I agree that those who just sit there mashing the refresh button on Twitter waiting for someone to say something have a problem. But if someone was of the sort to isolate themselves, they would do it with or without the presence of technology. There are many other ways this same technology helps us connect on a deeper level that is often impossible any other way.
My corporeal life is a killer; between work and kids I have been under the hammer for a very long time. I realized recently that there are people I've known for over a decade that have never seen me when I wasn't an exhausted mess. Not just acquaintances -- I mean good friends. And because of that, they have a view of me as a person that is far from accurate (at least I hope!).
I'm not saying that knowing that my life needs a "Report Abuse" button for me to press repeatedly most days is a problem. I'm saying that it's often hard to see past that to the actual person that I am. But when I'm writing online in my chosen venues, you don't see it. You just see my words. Or even if I do go on about whatever ate it's shorts in the meat world today, the effect is secondary to the facts and what I'm trying to say about it. The meaning of "my day sucked and here's why" is not always just that it sucked. There is more meaning to me than whining, and conveying that helps me get a better handle on that perspective.
That "chosen venue" part is the most important bit. If I was trying to manage that sort of connection solely through the good offices of 140 character hunks of Twitter and a couple paragraphs here and there on Facebook I'd be working with both hands tied behind my back.
And I think that over time, the line between the different kinds of interaction will continue to blur and blend. I wrote an article about this once here. I wasn't suggesting that we should throttle back; I was just pointing out that things had become a little more complicated than they used to be and we all need to take a look at how we deal it.
Reading that makes me a little sad, though. The older lady with the prayer cards (and her Presbyterian buddy) are both gone now. I've lost corporeal friends, electronic friends, and corporeal friends I've met through electronic means over the years. They all hurt. I get very angry if someone suggests that the years I knew Robespierre through his writings on Slate's "Fray" were somehow less important than the painfully few physical meetings we had before he died.
But my favorite part is when someone who for whatever reason had sort of fallen off the radar comes back. In a corporeal relationship there is often a bunch of baggage, but in the case of the online experience there are times when a person needs to step back. Their corporeal life is too much to handle and they have to focus there, or they just grow beyond that connection. If you're in the right venue, that's not a problem.
A person whose writings and person I respected a great deal decided to pull back from the forums we frequent for several personal reasons a while ago. While I was sad to see him go, I hoped he found what he was looking for. But he came back, and in a way I've been pivileged to come to expect on those forums he was welcomed back with open arms.