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Online interaction and intimacy

:: Friday, April 25th, 2003 @ 12:55:51 pm

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While I was in graduate school I took a class about online communities (it was a fluffy Human-Computer Interaction course of the type common in a specialty that is not yet well defined). I enjoyed the course a lot: we studied all sorts of online communities, including Ultima Online, which was especially cool because we were invited to go out on horseback with Lord Blackthorn himself. Having grown up playing the Ultima series, this was a real treat. :) He called down lightning to scare off the dirty peasants (all cash-paying users) and invited us into his unreachable castle, where he gave us armor and weapons and imbued us with unnatural strength (we were on the telephone with him simultaneously, listening to him bitch about the ungrateful users we rode past — almost all of them asked for money). I have screenshots of all of this, but I can’t find them right now.

Anyway, as part of the course we also taked a lot about false intimacy, which is commonplace among online “relationships” (in the broadest sense of the term). I get it often from people with whom I have never even had a conversation with. During a first “meeting,” whether it be online of offline, they tell me that they feel like they already know me really well (because of this site). Well… it’s a one way street. I don’t feel like I know them. I am not really a private person, but I do value my privacy. My close friends are almost all people with whom I’ve developed intimacy over the course of long periods of time, with few exceptions (although those exceptions do exist). And no matter how close I might feel to someone after long sessions of mostly online correspondence, he or she will always remain on the “other side” until I am able to confirm that bond in person.

Some people say that people are who they want to be, online, and that if you get to know someone in a medium without superficial distractions, you are getting to know the “real” person. I find that to be a bit idealistic if most of one’s time is spent in the material world. If you are defined by your online presence and relationships, I might agree more, but since most people have to interact with people face-to-face at some point, I take more stock in what they are like in person over what they are like online.

Perhaps the new generation, having grown up with electronic communication as the norm, will not have that “line” that must be crossed in order to feel true friendship…?

By the way, I am not saying that a lot about me can’t be gleaned from echeng.com, nor am I saying that I can’t make friends with online folk. I’m just saying that there is likely to be an information imbalance upon first contact, and that true friendship isn’t easily earned. I hope that I’m not scaring anyone off. After all, I have hosted gatherings where I don’t know 90% of the people. :)

| | link | trackback | Apr 25, 2003 12:55:51
  • http://www.baditude.net Eryn

    that reminds me of the chrysler film festival movie or whatever you posted up a while back.

    I remember being really into the “foothills” chat rooms in college. I would just be up late listening to music with nothing better to do.

    Most of the time the conversation would be really lame. Every once in a while you could have some sort of interesting political or philosphical discussion (probably with 15-year olds).

    The worst was the inevitable highschool “suicidal”. Ugh…so many long drawn out interactions with the most pityfull people ever.

    I spent a long time in that chatroom and I don’t think I ever really felt “connected” to “friends” there like I did to the people I actually interacted with.

    -E

  • carol

    Yeah, I think it’s impossible to know what the person behind the online journal is like until you meet and get to know the person. Take for ex. Dardy! Before I met him, I thought by just reading his online journal that he was some sicko, perverted, nutty guy who always talked about sex (I wonder if he’ll read this, BTW?). But once I got to know him (and this took a good year), he’s actually quite a cool guy. He still talks a lot about sex in real life, but eh, what can you do…

  • http://mindnority.com syndromes

    Dude… WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY?!

    If you don’t want to be best friends anymore, JUST SAY SO!

    Haha, j/k ;) Yah, I totally understand what you’re saying. Somewhat related, it’s a little freaky at first when you meet someone from the online realm, because you don’t associate the online/real world selves immediately. There’s a person you know online, and there standing in front of you, a person with a face. The face says something that you only talked about on the blog. WTF? Oh yah, that face BELONGS to the person you were talking to online… Strange ;)

    So, umm, i’ll try not to stalk you, but since you have ties to Diego, that may be difficult, muhahahaha!

  • echeng

    hehehe. who says you will be the one doing the stalking?! :)

  • http://www.HeyChristine.com Christine

    On the otherhand…

    Some people can express themselves a lot better online (or in writing, via traditional letters), so it’s possible to get to know someone easier through such mediums, as opposed to going out on X number of dates and hanging out together in person.

    It can be particularly confusing when that person happens to also be attractive to us! Because then we may form all kinds of other incorrect assumptions or expectations of what kind of person s/he should be.

    I guess it also depends on how well a person writes as well, for there are certain people out there who can really express themselves through their writing.

    As they say, when two people are talking to each other, there are actually 8 people speaking:

    1. Who you think you are

    Sometimes we’d like to believe we are something we are not.

    2. Who you really are

    Sometimes we really don’t know ourselves or what we really want, plus we keep changing as people.

    3. Who you would like that person to think you are

    Sometimes we would like for people to think we are a certain way, but deep down inside we know we aren’t that way.

    4. Who that person thinks you are

    People will form their own impressions of you regardless of the ‘truth’ and treat you accordingly.

    All of that times 2 (for the other person).

    Hmmm… I’m babbling…

    Sorry, lol.

  • maya

    hey. I like your website! i totally agree that you cant really know someone till u meet them in person…however, sometimes it works out. i met several musician friends through the net and they have become very useful musical contacts in my life…and its funny how tiny the music world is, you end up meeting these people at music festivals or competitions and everyone seems to know everyone… I guess the key is to just be careful, but not too careful…if that makes any sense? haha

  • echeng

    good points, everyone. :)

    yeah. it’s funny. i have this big website here with all sorts of information on it, yet when I meet someone for the first time, I hope they haven’t seen it… so we can be on even ground.

    but sometimes it can be good if they have read up (or vice versa) because all the superficial “what do you do” stuff is out of the way already. when i met christine (who left the comment above), she said, “you’re just like I imagined you do be,” or something like that.

    … so i guess the “true” me can be gleaned from echeng.com.

  • http://aspragg.blogspot.com AdamS

    A reader of my blog (total stranger) recently emailed me and asked if he could borrow a video tape (Simpsons on “Inside the Actors Studio). I said “Sure, if I still have it.”

    He said “Ok, send me your home address and I’ll send you a post-paid envelope.”

    I said “No offense, but I don’t give out my home address to total strangers. Maybe there’s something else we can work out?”

    He then backpedaled, which was fine with me. The point is that it was my very first experience with a weird boundary crossing between friends, strangers, blogging, and “real life”, and it was sort of weird.

    Sorry, that wasn’t a very good story. :)

  • echeng

    I was talking to Vienna this morning on the telephone, and she was saying that she found that her best friends were people she communicated well with both in person and online. It’s great when getting along online is validated in person, and vice versa.

    I think I agree with her. After all, even though I had spent time with Vienna a few times after we first met, it ended up being our online interaction that made us want to hang out more in person.

    But I still don’t need online interaction to feel closeness to someone. :)

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