The Intimacy of the Internet?

Yes, I said “intimacy”.  Because there are a lot of ways that the internet has both ripped us apart as communities and brought us together.

I’ve been off Facebook for two years and have no regrets. It wasn’t increasing my intimacy with people I loved, but rather just an online report of everything I did.  The things I really wanted to express came out on my blog.  The close relationships I had were still with the same people I had offline.  Why some don’t spend the time contacting folks individually anymore to share those family pictures is beyond me – and hey, shows we obviously weren’t as close as we thought (checking “like” is, well, lazy). So, it wasn’t necessary.  Similar to MySpace before it, I realized there was no true benefit, as after you get off Facebook, you find out who your real friends are.  I remember several “friends” even getting offended by my asking them to contact me directly on email or phone when I was getting off Facebook.  Obviously, we’re not friends anymore- Zuck’s site doesn’t determine friendships, y’all.  Maybe that’s why some stay on – they don’t want to admit they don’t actually have 468 friends and/or don’t want to take the time to connect the old fashioned way.  The people who are truly in our lives? They make an effort.

Oh – and the fact that Facebook is just a genius way of tracking and gathering people’s personal information. Here’s a good summary and it asks the great question, “Why should we let businesses privatize our social discourse?”.  Zuckerberg didn’t “bring people together” – he found a way to get people to give up their data, put their lives on display in the name of relationships.  Quite possibly the creepiest manipulation ever.  And I admit, for a couple years, I fell for it.  This is not dissing those who still use it, rather my own explanation of how my views have evolved and how yes, my friend MP was right all along.  Maybe that’s why I don’t idolize Sheryl Sandberg.

One positive that I did see was how a community page a former neighbor had created had initially brought our entire neighborhood together, sharing wisdom, celebrating new businesses, et cetera.  And then I saw how the actions of a few in the way they posted to the page were so divisive and attacking that my friend eventually closed the page down.  In a feeble attempt to revive it, I took it on, and saw within three weeks how nasty some of the comments got.  It wasn’t worth it.  So I took it down.

I was been on Twitter for just under two years and didn’t use it for my friendships. I saw some horrendous behavior directed to me by complete strangers, accusing and vicious and taunting and even threatening, to simple statements of opinion on news stories I’ve witnessed.

There is something about commenting online that brings out the most abhorrent behavior in certain people (people who most likely would never say those things to your face).  We’ve all seen articles online and how there always seems to be a few (if not a majority) who are crazy mean. It baffles the mind.  This Wall Street Journal story is a really interesting discussion of why this happens.

So this could cause one to think, ugh, the internet is such a divider, right?  But I think of this blog, and I put the naysayers and the bitchy comments and the quasi-friendships aside, because of this:  my blog.

Originally I started this blog in November 2008.  First on Blogger, and then last spring moved it over here to WordPress, which I much prefer (and oh yeah, we still have a Reader o’er here!). A colleague of mine whose mother had passed the prior month had suggested that I, when my father had just suffered an imminently fatal hemhorragic stroke, try blogging to get out what’s on my mind – an outpouring of sorts. For someone who types as fast as I do, it turned out to be a brilliant way to express my words at a faster rate (my journals still continue with pen and paper, mind you) whether it be creative writing, environmental discoveries, sharing my green life, or opinion pieces on the state of the world.

But it’s not just made me a better writer, and it’s not just gotten things off my chest.  With this journey, I have gotten to know some truly amazing people, a number who I consider friends – my “blog sistas”. I’ve met a few in person, including Mindful Mixture and She Writes and in May, my friend from Nomader-What.  And the list goes on as to who are still on my list to meet in person 🙂

And, yes, there’s the fact that my sweetheart is a writer as well.  While I’d love to say we’d have met anyhow, I know that our words brought us together online, our hundreds of conversations over the phone made us friends, and our time together over the past two years have created a relationship that has overcome tremendous odds.  He is my rock, and I am his.

So with that…

There is an amazing ethnographer named Stefana Broadbent, whose TED Talk (below) really dives into how people use the internet to stay connected to those who mean the most to them. She’s not referring to that person you vaguely knew in high school who now is on your Facebook, but rather discussing the findings that even with all of our “connections”, we are primarily focusing our time on an average of four people in our lives. Broadbent talks about how our societies have changed, leaving us frequently apart from each other rather than being on the same homestead during the day, and how these forms of communication “check-ins” can have benefit in our lives.  No, not when your secretary is updating her Facebook status all day long instead of doing actual work – we’re talking about that quick “how’s your day?” text that reminds us why we’re bringing home the bacon in the first place, that “I’m thinking about you” note that brings a smile of relief, that positive interaction via blog comments that remind you why you write.  That togetherness, no matter the geography…

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