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Scheherazade in Blue Jeans
freelance alchemist
Interesting sociological question 
21st-Aug-2009 10:01 am
Figuring shit out
Well, interesting to me, anyway. Hopefully to you.

An interesting (there's that word again!) thing came up in conversation today. And I have absolutely no outside perspective on this, so I honestly don't know where most people fall on this spectrum, and I am very deeply curious.

So in this conversation, I made reference to knowing the person for over a year; the person corrected me and said that really our experience of each other was more like 18 hours.

And I was like "huh." Because our in-person hanging-out has been limited, yes, because of physical distance. But, as I said on Gchat in response, "All of the talking online and on the phone counts in my head. It feels not quite as complete as in-person time, but really close to it."

Apparently online interaction counts at about only 10% of actual experience-of-the-other-person for my friend. Which was jarring to me, because for me, it counts as closer to 80%. Of course it isn't quite as intense as in-person experience. But.

It's tremendously weird to discover a disjoint this big!

I'll repost my thoughts on why online communication counts for so much here in their almost-entirety, because they helped my friend grok. And if your experience is closer to theirs than to mine, hopefully they'll help you grok, too.

I sort of exist as much on the computer as off it.
Until I moved to Boston, 85-90% of my interaction with people was online.
I lived here and didn't know my current Florida friends yet; I lived in Atlanta and all my friends were up North and I was housebound due to no public transit.
And when I moved to Boston, all of my online interactions moved very seamlessly into meatspace.
So that tends to be my unconscious assumption, I guess.

More background: I got online in the first place specifically because I was isolated. I had just moved back to Florida, several months pregnant, and I was pretty much alone in this very sterile house all day, every day. I found the Tamson House mailing list and the Bordertown BBS, where I made friends who are some of my closest friends to this day, even some I've never met - I have zero in-person experience of themaskmaker, but she is a beloved sister-friend, and I know that when I meet her, we'll transition seamlessly, just like haikujaguar and I did; we felt instantly like we'd been hanging out for years. <3

So I accept that my experience and perspective here may be far from normal; not as many people are as tremendously isolated as I was, and for so long. So not as many people interact as purely online, if that makes sense. I think. Like I said, I can't really evaluate this part of myself from outside me. But I do not have an online persona - I have been assured by many people, most recently enderfem, that I'm very WYSIWYG. The me you see here is the same me you'd be having coffee with or test-driving hedgehogs with.

So yes. Here's the question. Where on this spectrum do you fall? To what degree does online interaction feel real and full to you? And how much of your interaction tends to be online? Am curious if my thoughts here are mainly the product of having the majority of my communication be online for big chunks of the past dozen-plus years.

EDIT for two datapoints:
1. I'm not saying any particular perspective here is right or wrong; I'm putting it out there specifically because I know that I am an unusual person with unusual social interactions, and this may well be one of the ways in which I am an alien, in which case it is a thing I ought to take into account when interacting with people.
2. I met the friend in question in person, not online, but most of our interaction has been online or on the phone, because y'all have not invented teleporters yet. You should get on that. (I'm a future neurologist. Teleporters are not my field.)

Also, I find it amusing how I instantly shifted into engineer-brain when this came up.
21st-Aug-2009 02:24 pm (UTC)
I count online interaction into the "knowing" time. I keep up with my friends in other places through the internet. Just because I don't see them in person much anymore doesn't mean we aren't friends anymore.
21st-Aug-2009 02:26 pm (UTC)
I know a few people on LJ whom I have met offline. A couple of those are beloved sister-friends, my anamchara - the moment I met them face-to-face, there was a powerful sense of connection, as if we had known each other for years. If I haven't met them online, I would not have met them offline (later).

A lot of my interaction happens online. But I would like to meet the person(s) whom I interact with offline.
21st-Aug-2009 05:36 pm (UTC)
I like that you use "anamchara" to describe them, for that is a concept that I use to describe some of my friends, as well. To the extent that I used the phrase as my username on the first forum I'd joined, FictionAlley, which led me here.

(Really love the phrase: In fact, it's inscribed on our wedding rings, because when I met my husband, it was like kismet; I felt that powerful sense of connection immediately, even if I wasn't actively pursuing a relationship at that time.)
21st-Aug-2009 02:28 pm (UTC)
I'd say somewhere around 50%, maybe +/- 10%. Although it also depends on the person with whom I'm communicating: if it's someone who I almost exclusively see online, it feels more real, because that's the mode by which my brain has become accustomed to communicating with them; if it's someone I see face-to-face all the time, it feels more like "a convenience" rather than "real" communication.

I don't exactly "put on a persona" when I'm chatting with people online, but most people (including me, I don't know if it includes you) tend to censor themselves a little bit more in written communication, whether it's going back and editing what they typed before they sent it, deciding against sending something at all, or what have you.

Additionally, there's the lack of unspoken (or, in this case, unwritten) communication -- body language, facial expression, even tone of voice -- that contribute so much to how we tend to communicate.

A good bit of my interaction tends to be online, mostly because there are people who are either not local (*clears throat in obvious hint*) or one or both of us are just too busy to be able to "see" each other except over a computer screen. Again, I'd say it's about 50% -- which, in and of itself, may be the correlation that you're looking for.
21st-Aug-2009 02:29 pm (UTC)
Plenty of folks had meaningful relationships over decades with only letters going between them. There's people I see every day over years who I don't know at all, and people I know online and IRL with whom the online interactions allow connections that just becomes intensified when we meet in person.

If I didn't communicate this way, I'd be absoultely isolated. I just make sure to meet people face to face when I can.

I'm very WYSIWYG.

Me too.

Edited at 2009-08-21 02:31 pm (UTC)
21st-Aug-2009 02:29 pm (UTC)
Internet counts to me 70-90%. Depending on the other person.

Most of my family is scattered and I used to be a letter writer, email means they'll actually write back.

So, I'm more connected to them because of the internet and so that is how I view most of my internet friends.

21st-Aug-2009 02:35 pm (UTC)
I count online interaction as real and full, I met my husband on an online video game (not WoW, as everyone assumes when I say that!) and all of my close friends are internet friends. I got to meet most of them at Readercon, and that was beyond awesome (and when I met them it was totally seamless, not at all awkward), but while I don't expect to see them again until next year, and I've only ever talked to one of them on the phone, they're still my closest friends.

Maybe I'm an extreme example. Then again, I don't seem to live near any of the friends I really care about. If I did, I'm sure my experience would be different.
21st-Aug-2009 02:35 pm (UTC)
I do at least 80% of my interaction online. My kid just this morning said, "Mom, I think your computer is your best friend."

I don't know how WYSIWYG I am. I've had people meet me offline and remark that they were surprised at how small I am. Other than that?

The thing that annoys me is the (sometimes veiled) contempt I get from people who think online interaction "doesn't count."
21st-Aug-2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
I also met an online friend in meatspace once who said, "How can I feel so comfortable with someone I've only just met?" I was baffled -- we'd known one another for years, as far as I was concerned.
21st-Aug-2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
It absolutely counts at no less than 80% intensity. It just depends on the level of contact, just like it does in person.

I met my husband online. I fell in love with him before I knew what he looked like. On the other hand, I am occasionally surprised by people here on LJ who call me friend (actual friend, rather than LJ Friend) and include me in trusted filters when I don't feel like I've spent that much time interacting with them. They are obviously using a different measure than I am.
21st-Aug-2009 02:44 pm (UTC)
I met my husband online. I fell in love with him before I knew what he looked like.

Same here. <3
21st-Aug-2009 02:39 pm (UTC)
I may even count as much as 90% of my online interaction time with someone as "knowing" them. In fact, its SO important to me to interact with people in this respect, that I refuse to date someone (even locally) if I can't talk to them online regularly. My reasons for this include the fact that I do best with people who's primary form of communication is verbal and who are accustomed to putting words, feelings, abstract ideas, into words. I do much less well with people who communicate primarily physically, or who rely heavily on physical chemistry to determine who they like and wanna spend time with. These are not invalid forms of interaction, they just don't mesh with me very well.
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21st-Aug-2009 02:49 pm (UTC)
> You are asking this question on LJ, where people gather to interact online. Our perception of online "knowing" is bound to be higher than for people who aren't here.

Excellent point.
21st-Aug-2009 02:48 pm (UTC)
My thoughts on this are so strong I don't think I can fully articulate them. But yeah, 80% or more. Body language is cool and all, but talking on the phone is "real," as someone mentioned above letters are "real" so internet is real too.
21st-Aug-2009 02:50 pm (UTC)
I will concede that I have become closer to real-life friends through email and chat, and I do conduct a large portion of my friend interaction over internet. The internet is basically responsible for introducing me to all of my close friends, although I rarely become emotionally close to anybody I haven't met first.

In college, I made a close friend over the internets who lived a few hours away. I started really opening up to him and sort of developed a small crush. He invited me to visit and was apparently extremely disappointed by me. (I used to think it was because I was heavier than he'd expected, but I've lost a lot of weight and he still acts superior and disappointed ten years later, so I think it's just that he's a douche.) That pretty much killed any chance I'd take to share my most personal self with strangers again.

Essentially, if we've never met in real life, you are just a casual acquaintance to me. Some people I'm reasonably sure I'd get on with like a house on fire in real life, but until we actually DO, I make no assumptions.
21st-Aug-2009 02:55 pm (UTC)
I'm answering this before I read the other comments on purpose *grin*

Online interactions are incredibly real to me; I have forged deep, strong, meaningful relationships with people I never, ever, ever expect to see in person. And why these relationships are so strong and powerful (for me at least) is we're talking brain-to-brain. And you can get right into stuff -- serious conversations that in 'real life', very few people (I can count on ONE HAND) I know have. I have *TWO* 'real life' friends I can call when I'm hysterically upset about how a book ended, for example, who will instantly empathize and get it and offer literary suggestions on how to feel better.

When I killed a major character in a story, I went to the local store and got a six pack and drank it in his honor. People are STILL talking about the crazy lady who drank for the loss of an imaginary being. People on LJ (at least some, I'd hazard at least some who are reading this comment) get it.

Add to that social anxiety or whatever the proper name for what is wrong with me is. My online friends I can talk to without my stuff getting in the way, and it allows me to be there for them without breaking me.

I am working on more 'real life' connections. But I am also very much WYSIWYG, with one major exception: I don't talk nearly as much as I write, and sometimes it's a lot of me 'hanging back' and watching, and listening, and I feel like that disappoints people, because I'm not particularly witty or anything. But I don't know how much of that is accurate, and how much is perception...

And I think I could write about this all day, but maybe I shouldn't. There are stories to be written to appease my lovely Canadian editor, so I hope that helps for now.
21st-Aug-2009 02:57 pm (UTC)
Oh, definitely. For me, online barely counts at all. It's so frustratingly flat and devoid of the nuance of mannerisms and tone of voice as to be almost useless compared to actually meeting or at least talking on the phone with someone. However, I know plenty of people for whom text messages, email, twitters, and so forth all count the same as face to face time.

Relatedly, if I meet someone new, then see them only a few times over the course of a year, to my mind I've known them for however much time we've spent together, not for 'a year'. I've had situations where people I thought I barely knew presume heavily on our limited acquaintance from this. Interestingly, after I've known someone a while this no longer applies. Perceptions vary enough that it's always good to check.

21st-Aug-2009 02:59 pm (UTC)
I would say my experience is closer to yours than not. I have some very good friends here -- many of whom we have in common, of course -- that I will most likely never actually meet in person.
21st-Aug-2009 03:00 pm (UTC)
This is a really interesting question for me, because I feel like I live in both worlds, the "high tech"/"high touch" dichotomy being absolutely central to the way I am. (I'm online all the time. I'm also quite touch-centered in meatspace relationships, though I try very hard not to do anything if I'm not very sure that it does work for the other person...because I know that not everyone is as touch-centered, people have triggers, and so on.)

Online interaction is real. It's not the same kind of real, but it's definitely as real IMO as face-to-face is. I'm not sure that I can come up with a "conversion factor" since that seems like too reductionist a way of looking at it. (Any communications medium will have particular affordances, things that make it work better in some ways and worse in other ways.)

In some recent discussions, I've included friends I've known since college and also someone who I've literally met in person only once, for a weekend...because we have quite a bit of online interaction as a basis. Another friend I met in person at a con, and only later realized that we'd been in some of the same online circles for a while before that; I'm lucky to see her a couple times a year at conventions, but that doesn't mean the rest of the time isn't important to me.

It may also have something to do with having been online for literally 2/3 of my lifetime (if you count BBS chatter and the like in the days of 300bps dialup, and I do); even when I wasn't isolated, I was still forming connections online that would then move into meatspace at various times.

("Test-driving hedgehogs"? Is that what the kids are calling it these days?)
23rd-Aug-2009 12:16 pm (UTC)
Coming in late to say: This!

Well, maybe not 2/3 of my life... *does the math* OK, almost half. I first got online (regularly) at about 19. I'm now 37. So, yeah. ;)

As for a conversion factor, that would depend a great deal on the other person. With some folk, it'll be very high; but with others, very low.

Plus, I have a very high telephone avoidance thing, so text formats are much, much better than phone. *nods* The husband teases me about that quite a lot. "Just call him if you want to know." "Yes, but I don't want to interrupt whatever might be happening." (Or whatever excuse I can find at the moment.) *chuckles*

'Song, I'm quite WYSIWYG over here, too. Even other people have remarked on it.
21st-Aug-2009 03:12 pm (UTC)
LJ and email and IM are a supplement to real-life knowing someone. There are rare people whom I've gotten to know completely online, without a face-to-face meeting. Otherwise, I like using the internet as a way to keep in touch or keep informed about the world my friends live in, but it's not the same as being able to touch someone.

But it's still me.
21st-Aug-2009 03:14 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty much with you on this. Hell, I've had whole relationships where the primary component was online. I can think of several people I'm very close to whom I've only actually met in person once, but with whom I interact online.
21st-Aug-2009 03:16 pm (UTC)
Here's the thing. I consider everything I do to be projection of my mind. Whether it is writing this post, doing a podcast, or taking out the trash. All of it is influenced by my will and me forcing myself upon the world.

No one knows the complete "you" except for a very small amount of people who get the opportunity to see you in every aspect of your life. For most people this will be your spouse, and maybe your kids. Other people will get glimpses of "you" but never the whole shebang.

Even people you work with or spend a lot of time with tend to see that portion of you. Golf you, work you, MMO you, Chat you. They are all YOU.

So to me the question is immaterial. If you are interacting with me, you are getting to know me. The portion of me that you are interacting with at any rate. So in that sense you "know" me. And really that's all anyone can really expect.
21st-Aug-2009 03:23 pm (UTC)
I count online time. Particularly since two of my last three boyfriends were "met" online.

But it is easy to have the interactions be more one-sided than you realise. I mean, in our house, we talk about and discuss the posts and lives of our favourite bloggers. Which means if I reference Dooce or Scalzi, John knows who I'm talking about. A lot of anecdotes arise from things they've said on the web, that manage to find a point of reference in our own lives. (Things like poop, in Dooce's case, and schadenfreude pie, in Scalzi's.) Because of this, there's a perception that they are part of our lives in some small way. But out in the world, Dooce would never rememeber me, and Scalzi would, but not by my face: I'd have to name who I was as a commentator.

I do have friends with whom I have had more in depth online conversations, and I feel there's a strong chance our perceptions of each other are more equal. But not actually being there, it's hard to say.

I thought about that last sentence, and then it occured to me that there are people who you can spend real life time with, and they don't ping your mental radar and vice versa. Coworkers often fall into this category.
21st-Aug-2009 03:54 pm (UTC)
This. I question the people who assume that because they know a person in person they know a "realer" version of that person. After all, plenty of "perfectly nice people" have turned out to be criminals, rapists, or even people you didn't know at all.

We're all choosing, all the time, the amount of ourselves we are extending to other people, no matter what the medium. Some people might actually be more themselves online, because they are freed from social anxieties, speech impediments or physical ailments that make people not-see-them, or make them less willing to offer themselves to others to be seen.

Plenty of people who've never met me in person know me better than a lot of the coworkers I've worked with over the years.
21st-Aug-2009 03:33 pm (UTC)
I've never considered on-line interaction as a percentage equivalent of meatspace, but I guess I would put it at about 85-90%. My social life is about 80% on-line, but that is dropping as I become more entrenched in the local tribe around here. (By "tribe" I'm referring mainly to all the people I've met through Sooj fandom, because you we all form a rather large, nation-wide community, and you lot seem to have adopted me into your our [ph/f]amily without reservation.)

I've been on-line to varying degrees since I was about twelve years old. These days, if I can't keep up with someone through facebook or livejournal, I probably won't keep up with them.

I suspect that a considerable factor in how "real" on-line communication is to a given person is their comfort level with the written word. It seems to me that people who are more literate tend to communicate more fully through their keyboards.
21st-Aug-2009 03:36 pm (UTC)
I'd say it counts for maybe 55%, I do interact a bunch on line with people I don't get to see often, but it's only quasi-real
21st-Aug-2009 03:47 pm (UTC)
Beats me, I pretty much just live online.

I've been more or less online since the internet was known as JANET...so in terms of total hours, I've way more experience with this form of social interaction.

My IRL interactions are few and far between...and honestly, I'm less me in person. I get stressed out, and throw up a false front as a defence when there's other people about. Social anxiety, plus introvert, plus some pretty bad stuff as a kid = me being nervous around people and covering it by faking it...

Ergo, online works for me better.
21st-Aug-2009 03:48 pm (UTC)
I'd say that AIM/Gchat type things feel almost as real as high-quality meatspace interaction, maybe 80-90% of the way there. But email and comment exchanges count less (maybe around 50%). And people whose LJs are just mutually read... don't even really count as the same thing (though I'd put around 10% for a number), but it feels to me more like the feeling one gets of 'knowing' fictional people. I read your story, you read mine... but if we don't *interact,* although you still 'feel' like a real person to me, we don't know each other in any meaningful sense.
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