Thursday, July 02, 2009

Reaching Out and Touching Online

On another blog this week I saw a comment that online communication (some kinds, anyway) is more “touchy-feely” than in-person conversation. At first sight, this remark sounds counter-intuitive. One of the drawbacks of the Internet is usually said to be that it lacks body language and emotional cues (hence the invention of emoticons).

On the other hand, many people feel freer to express opinions and emotions in the “safe” context of a virtual environment with no face-to-face contact. It’s certainly easier, sometimes, to talk to an uninvolved acquaintance about sensitive matters, rather than someone deeply affected by the situation.

On the third hand, the ease and apparent (not necessarily real) anonymity of the Internet can tempt people into reckless self-disclosure. Also, many critics insist online intimacy is an illusion, an artificial substitute for “real” human interaction. True, it’s not unknown for someone to invent a fictitious online persona and present it as real, but surely that not the norm (I hope). Personally, I think in some sense the thoughts and emotions I express in writing, when I have time to reflect and get the wording “just right,” may offer a more “real” self-disclosure than remarks I blurt out on the spur of the moment. What do you think? Is online human interaction usually genuine, and when (if at all) could it be called “touchy-feely”?

SF connection: Future societies where characters live in virtual worlds on the Net in preference to—or even to the exclusion of—the physical world. We already have the first generation of such a world in Second Life. Has anybody here tried that? I’ve never visited it, though it sounds intriguing. A potential super time vampire, though, and considering how thoroughly I’ve neglected the Sims I created a couple of years ago, trying to keep up with another life on top of the “real” one would clearly be a hopeless endeavor.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter’s Crypt

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