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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.
Comments 
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.

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