How do we refer to our online “pleasant acquaintances?” GMRoper left a mental health anecdote that will quite obviously find a place to be told at the hospital I work in. How do I introduce that? “A friend of mine tells a story about…” is a lot closer to the emotional content than “I read online…” But in honesty, I wouldn’t know Roper if we shared a ditch in a tornado, even though I have seen a picture of him and have some idea how his personality works. It seems like a dangerous step downward to be refering to “friends” that you’ve actually never conversed with. It’s reminiscent of having imaginary pals that you talk to, and the neighbors pity you for being such a lonely guy.
I could reframe it as an evolutionary step up for humankind, to achieve friendship via the essentials of personality rather than the accident of proximity. Hmm.
I am being light-hearted here, but I think there is a serious issue underneath it. Communication and interaction have changed rapidly, and the trend is likely to continue. Will we need the people in our immediate vicinity less and less over the century, as people increasingly go to work and school online and do their socialization alone in their dens? That’s much more social than living in a dispersed farm community before the advent of telephone and radio, so it’s got to be a plus there. But it is a very different type of socializing from sitting on porches and front stoops in towns, speaking to those with whom you share proximity.
It’s clear I am voting via my actions for more electronic, less protein-based communication. While multiple persons can interact online at the same time in 3-way or 7-way conversations, the technology is still not quite comfortable for that, so the human gathering has not been replaced. But I imagine that’s coming. Who will we be then?