Relational interactions online don’t seem to transfer smoothly to offline or reality.
One cliche moment any person who’s spent any amount of time online in social interactions is when it comes to seeing someone in-person and reaching for all the knowledge you gained about them from observing their online behavior. They liked X product, they announced Y concert tickets they scored, they read Z book and got this and that from it.
Yet we dare not bring much or any of this up in real life. At least that’s been my impulse reaction. This more so happens with casual online friends. Casual as in, you don’t really see them at all in real life or don’t have that much of a relationship with them. Or, you see them but don’t have much of a conversational relationship with them still. But boy, the amount of ‘things’ you know about them already. And yet it feels safest to summon none of it and instead discuss THE WEATHER.
Or the sports team score.
Or anything but what you know about them online.
But therein is the point: not actually bringing up online observances in real life. Perhaps the person read the book because it was mandatory reading for a work book club. Perhaps they went to X concert because their boyfriend (wait they have a boyfriend?! this was not listed….) scored the tickets and they don’t even like the band. Perhaps they follow a product’s page because they work for a firm producing the rival product, so they despise that product but follow their page to better understand their enemy.
This and a whole lot more, are reasons why the online relational reality is a bit of a foggy mirror compared to relational reality in person.
Andy Crouch in his book The Life We’re Looking For, gets at the idea human society has suddenly become very lonely. In an age of technological communication enhancement the world has never seen previously, how could loneliness be the case?
It’s because as recent as just yesterday in the time scale of human history, we were relationally fully embodied people, interacting with people physically present to us for the majority of our communication.
Crouch develops an argument getting us back into our embodied selves by demonstrating the “superpower” of social media and internet technology in general has enhanced sharing words and ideas at the cost of fully sharing words and ideas. We miss out on the full because of some key developmental factors the human needs.
We flatter ourselves that we live in a “developed” world – but it is an adapted world, a lopsided world. And it is a lonely world because the one thing that you cannot enhance, supercharge, or outsource in human life is the one thing we most need: the patient process of search and recognition, absence and return, rupture and repair that adds up to being known.Pg 57-58
The fully communicative person needs search and recognition as Crouch puts it, and this happens as fully embodied present people and not as overly informed screen readers. We need tension and occasional absence from each other so when we get in person with each other, we can actually take a stab at getting to know the real person in front of us.
Knowing something about someone online is just like reading a book about them. But hearing their inflection in their tone, smelling the room you are both in, glancing out the window behind them and seeing the blazing setting sun, these items create a full experience attached to the knowledge you are gaining about them.
We’ve been doing the latter for a very long time. Reading an endless stream of information about people as they self report information daily? This is not simply new but dull compared to knowing why they went to the concert they went to as you laugh it off based on social cues given off simply from their body language.