One of the strangest aspects of online life is this sense of false intimacy we get from it. I guess it’s a kind of human need, this need for connection, which one gets JUST ENOUGH OF through tweets or other exchanges to feel one actually is having a conversation – when most of the time, truth is, it’s a fragment at best.
For instance: I’ve just “tweeted” Stephen Fry, after seeing on my Twitter page that he’d just landed in Russia and was waiting to “deplane”. Even though I knew it was actually quite rude of me I couldn’t quite stop myself from tweeting back, to take the mickey out of the term… when I know perfectly well 1) that I don’t know him AT ALL, so what am I doing attacking what he says? and 2) “deplane” is a nasty verb but many do use it with a sort of post-modern twist. The illusion that one can fire a reply off to somebody one “knows” is held up by the way the conversation stream is managed and constructed. Stephen doesn’t see my reply, because as far as I know he isn’t following me, but I still get the thrill of having what appears to be an exchange with a star.
If the gos is correct, this issue is acute in online dating. When you finally meet the person who’s your online soul-mate, many people find themselves thinking they’ve already done the negotiation process which sustainable intimacy requires. Not true: the illusion e-mails and IMs have created is forceful enough to make you forget you’ve barely met and may be different in person. So many expectations – likely to have been carefully stage-managed and worked into one’s life to suit a personal agenda and schedule – are a heavy load for any new relationship. No wonder so many complain that online dating is full of sharks. Perhaps it’s merely over-weighted by hopes and fantasy.
But is this such a bad thing – or do we just need to understand it, keep it in mind, adapt our behaviour accordingly? After all, it’s likely to be here to stay, and there’s no indication that the need to cyber-connect is going to go away.
ADHD “Attention span deficit” is the disorder of the moment – but what if this were an adaptation, not a disorder at all? An adaptation to screen-living and relating, which requires rapid responding to disparate fragments of what’s available in the environment.
Maybe these are the true children of the digital and TV ages, who – when brought into conventional settings – have no skills that match up. All they know how to do is press the remote…. So – I’m sorry, Stephen, will you forgive me? Or is is more likely that, by now, you too are on to something new and more interesting…
(c)2009 Alex Brunel. All rights reserved.