About two years ago, a then-new friend evangelized the art of online self-expression. He urged me to Tweet, to make my blog public, to update my Facebook – in short, to live my life in these digital spaces in a more substantial way. And, because he was a very good prosthletizer , I did as he suggested. And now I have relationships, friends, and experiences I would not want to live without that are firmly rooted in online spaces. Even people I know offline become actual friends through Gmail, Skype, SL, WoW and the like – not from going out to the bars, catching a movie, or hanging at the park on a Saturday afternoon.
These spaces are admittedly very different. Real name spaces like Facebook, where I post an actual picture of my face and chat about things that happen to me and others tend to bring out and reinforce relationships I have offline, for the most part. When I comment or send a message to a friend there, I feel as though I’ve been keeping in touch with people, even if I haven’t seen them in person in literally decades. When I recently saw a few folks at a conference, I felt as though I had been continually connecting with the ones who are my active FB friends. I went to a kind of informal high school reunion a few weeks ago, and some people there were ones I hadn’t seen in a long time, but will feel all the more comfortable with because of exchanges on FB. Although I’m not a Twitter afficionado, in that space, too, I have feelings of connection that transfer readily offline.
But recently, it has become even clearer to me that there are special things about online interactions that make all kinds of social, well, better. Have you ever connected by voice chat and then coordinated watching a movie on Netflix with a dear one? You should, it’s a blast. Beyond IM exchanges or emails, connections we can build in cyberspace allow us to have a range of experiences and shared moments that aren’t standing in for social moments, but are themselves those social moments.
So yeah, online social interaction is most definitely “real” social interaction.