The Relevancy of Touch
As a pioneer of sorts on the Internet (I started my first online Diary in 1998), during my frantically busy years as a law student, I declared that "place is irrelevant" and made friends regardless of where they lived. I've traveled across the country to meet Internet buddies, and I've lured many to DC to meet me. I've even tried a few times to date fellas who lived hundreds or thousands of miles away. I've read some success stories -- about people who met over the Internet, fell in love, and moved to new cities to be together -- but I don't have my own success story to tell. My efforts ended in frustration. Well, I do still have friends I met over the Internet, but no boyfriends. And whether they live near or far I don't see my 'net friends in person very often.
I think I'm independent enough and disciplined enough and communicative enough to make a long-distance relationship work, and to convert one into a local live-in relationship. I did live about 200 miles away from a boyfriend for a year, about 10 years ago, but I'd met him in real life and we'd been dating for two years and we knew the distance would be temporary.
The Internet allows us to communicate via e-mail, web page, or instant message. Maybe its just me, but it seems like the Internet is changing more than just how people communicate. I think it is changing the nature of relationships, making them less personal, making them less special, making them less grounded in reality. There are so many opportunities to interact with "compatible" people online that people are spending increasing portions of their lives sitting alone in front of computer screens.
For example, are there many gay fellas left who try to meet potential dates in real-life settings? It seems like the default now is to use online dating/hookup services such as gay.com or Friendster. You can scan lots more people with less investment and throw away the duds after one quickie meetup.
In my own experience, IM conversations are less focused and less comforting than phone conversations. People IM with several friends simultaneously, while doing chores, even drifting away from the computer for periods of time. People sign off without saying goodbye.
Four weeks ago I called my HMO and claimed that I was suffering from Internet addiction.
There was a lot going on inside my head ... "Internet addiction" is a gross oversimplification of all that I was feeling ... but I was realizing that my virtual relationships were not helping me during a time of great need. I was grieving important losses, such as the recent loss of my father. I needed to be around people. I needed touch. I needed food. I needed sleep. I needed to feel like I was part of a living family, a living support network. The dozens of online relationships I'd cultivated over years sitting in front of a computer screen were not helping me in the ways I needed help.
Why have I done this to myself? Why have I created more online friends than real-life friends? Why is it that more people will e-mail me with messages of support than will call me or come over and hug me?
It isn't just me. Like I said, I think this is becoming the default for young adults who have computers and Internet access. Especially if they have graduated from school -- schools still provide a lot of real-life socializing opportunities.
Are computers saving us from a real-life world of loneliness by introducing us to finely-gauged levels of compatibility, or are they creating a world of real-life loneliness by making us all sit alone in front of computer screens? Maybe it depends on the individual and his situation.
If I had as many real-life friends as I have LiveJournal friends I'd seem to be extremely popular. I'd always have a group of people around me. I wouldn't be going running by myself, or hitting the gym by myself. I wouldn't need to bother with masturbation. I'd be giving and getting massage and other forms of touch all the time. I'd have a few roomies, we'd have cats, we'd cook for each other and share stories over dinner. I'd feel like I was part of a family.
I don't feel that way right now.
I've always been an introvert, but I think the Internet makes me more introverted. It makes me feel like I'm not alone when I am alone. It makes me feel like I have a lot of friends when I don't really have a lot of friends.
I'm still using the computer to interact with people, but not nearly as much as I was four weeks ago.
The first step was realizing the problem, and admitting the problem. The next step is taking steps to address the problem. I want to spend more time with real people and less time at home on my computer. I want to live with other people. I want to share my life instead of sharing my 'blog.
I probably need to add additional new friends who would rather hang out with me in real-life than sit in front of their computers.
I'm going to find ways to keep myself busy, out of the apartment, with family and friends and potential new friends. Yeah, I have to stay home once in a while to do chores or rest. Eventually even home won't be a place where I'm alone, though. I want being alone to be a conscious choice I make when I need solitude, not my default situation.
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