The computer is a great invention. Not only did it allow researchers to make calculations in vastly shorter periods of time in comparison to writing it out longhand with a pencil on paper, it made the world a much smaller place. Information is a few short keystrokes away. We can explore new places from the comfort of our favorite seat in the house. Communication happens in mere moments with people on the opposite side of the planet when it used to take months. Relationships can be formed quickly because of this beautiful tool and they can be destroyed just as easily by the same means.
One phenomenon that appears to have become much more prevalent due to computer usage is the one-sided relationship. Legions of people found themselves falling in “love” or “like” with the persona of someone they hadn’t met in person and who perhaps showed an equal interest in them, too. I was guilty of that myself, caught up in the romanticism of what was essentially for most people an interactive work of fiction. Characters playing out their cherry-picked roles on a stage nobody saw; it was a bit like listening to A Prairie Home Companion on NPR – only much more bawdy.
It’s almost surreal to think that I started to chat with people online 20 years ago, first on BBSes, then chat rooms and now places like Twitter and Facebook. I found a lot of dates in college right on my own campus, mostly before people used chatting for nefarious reasons, and later on I formed long-lasting friendships with others I met in Yahoo! Chat rooms. Those were places where it seemed everyone had more time and you could be lost in conversation, albeit typed, for hours on end in rapid-fire exchange with someone else who seemed to declare, “ME TOO,” in equal amounts and with just as much enthusiasm.
Today, conversations are reduced to condensed blurbs of 140 characters or less in between taking selfies or checking in at Foursquare. Inevitably, the person who has more time, interest and a longer attention span is left hanging on the line as the person holding the soup can on the other end of the string has to set it down to go live their Life. And so begin’s the one-sided relationship.
My life now is not like it was a few years ago and I went from being a daily visitor in chat rooms to now a somewhat frequent poster to Twitter, going silent for days then then sending a barrage of messages out to the internet for all to see. My online persona, according to Mr. Muse, has very attractive “electronic pheromones”, and dare I use sadly to describe this – sadly, I have attracted more than my fair share of people who carry the torch of the one-sided relationship.
One of my dear internet friends of the past several years and I had an email exchange pondering this phenomenon of the internet one-sided relationship. They’d experienced the same things I had of receiving messages of “I hope you’re okay, you haven’t posted anything in a couple days” or similar. These same people, who know only your online persona that you’ve crammed into a few bits of binary and nothing of the actual you appear to form this weird relationship with you in their heads which they find comfortable and they tell you their deepest secrets and desires and feel completely at ease asking you about the most intimate details of your life. These are the people who hide from the world under the guise of “I’m just socially awkward,” hoping that will excuse their exhibition of creepy behavior. The jig is up – society is onto you. We have reached normality.
Oh ye torch-bearers of the one-sided relationship – you are the sperm whale, summoned into existence miles above the earth and hurtling towards it to smash into this thing you’ve called “ground”. Those of us who have dealt repeatedly with you, are the petunias, “Oh no… not again.”
I implore those who are addicted to their computers and mobile phones to turn them off, set them down, walk away from them and go forth out into the world and talk to actual people, face-to-face. Relearn to read and pick-up on facial expressions, vocal inflections and body language. Learn to stand at an appropriate distance from someone when conversing with them. Walk about in the out of doors, breath in that fresh air, or not-so-fresh for those in the city. In other words, create your own Life and then go Live it. Fully.
So, what was once a tool of universities and the military is now mostly known for internet porn, chat rooms and online stalking. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Social media has created a place for the citizens of the world to bring to justice those who violate the rights of others. They can bring attention to situations that need to be known and solved. Vive la Revolution!
Computers may very well run the world one day, taking us humans out of the equation entirely. Until then, at least we know that the meaning of life, the universe and everything is 42.
Well, we’re definitely using social media more than ever, and for forming relationships. With the rise of Tinder and sites like match.com and eharmony. I even have a friend who got married shortly after high school to a guy she met on hotornot.com. *sigh* At least we have 42.
I agree that relationships are being formed. Some of my dearest friends are people I have met online, but I do notice that there is an uptick in the “one-sided” relationships, too. I think that comes from mistaking someone’s politeness as interest, they aren’t mutually exclusive.
There are several instances where the relationship has gone from “know the person online” to “know the person.” I LIKE to think that I’m one of those people where the “online me” is “the real me,” though I know there are differences. There is this tiny little PR department in my head that ensures that the message going out portrays the image of me that I want to have shown.
With those people that I know the “real them,” I’m always jarred when I find differences between the online persona & the actual person — almost always, the online persona is “more jerky”. I guess some people don’t like other people knowing they’re kind.
But, in the case that someone moves from “know them online” to “know them,” I’ll admit to dropping a line with a “hey, things ok?” somewhere offline if a significant amount of time passes (sometimes a few weeks, sometimes a few months). I always worry about doing it, though, because I don’t want to ever appear overbearing. That said, last night, I didn’t post anything for a few hours at a time when I’m usually fairly active on social media — I left work, ran to pick up my son, took karate with my son, then got my daughter, went grocery shopping, got home, made dinner, cleaned up from dinner, and then started the process of replacing my broken kitchen faucet . . . in all of that, I was truly busy — but it was only a few hours. I had 5 tweets & 2 DM’s, making sure things were ok. That actually irked me a bit. I think I need to head out to the woods & unplug for a weekend.
As much as I try to be “the real me” online, conversation is always missing the vocal inflection, facial expression and body language. People don’t always know if I’m joking or not – then again, they can’t always tell in person either. I try to say frequently that I’m a hermit, but people see “social media” and think that I like talking to people 24/7. SO far from the truth. I can go DAYS without talking to Mr. Muse, and I’m married to him, LIKE him in addition to love him, and I live in the same house. I can go weeks without talking to my Mom – but she’s the same way – if there is something important to be said, we’ll call the other person.
And John, I know what you mean about dropping a line once in a while. I do that, too, just the same as you – weeks or months might go by, something triggers my memory of the person and I’ll send a note. I have a major concern about intruding – I don’t like to do it.
As for unplugging – it’s a beautiful thing and I love the results every time I do.