Prestolee’s blog post on social intimacy and Twitter has been discussed by the Gingerbread Girl, and her post reminded me of something that was at the back of my mind when I was warbling about internet identity and privacy on Friday.
The Gingerbread Girl reckons that
Internet relationships (especially the ones on the websites most employers ban) are not intimate relationships… We may care about our virtual friends at some level and wish each other well. We may help each other find something or solve something, raise money for charity, or provide support and encouragement. But at the end of the day, we do not really know the people on the other end of the ether, nor they us.
But the social media and the internet have provided opportunities to form friendships with people in circumstances we wouldn’t have had before; and also to find out a lot more about those people, rapidly, than we have had before, too.
Those of us even slightly active on the internet leave trails of information behind us – blog postings, Facebook updates, comments on others’ blogs – and streams of utterances on Twitter, if that’s where you think it’s @. A quick Google, and we can find out lots of information – for instance, I am listed on business networking sites, social network sites, photosharing sites, and have several blog comments. (Apparently I am also an author and an American football player in the US and a sports coach in New Zealand…) Very quickly, you could gauge my interests, the music I listen to and what my political views are, and see places I have been to and things I have seen.
Access to this information allows us to construct a social picture of our online contacts that feels like intimacy: we now know things about friends – online and offline – that it would have taken months or years of casual conversations to build up. It is easy to feel like we have known people online for a long time when in fact we have only just met them – or haven’t physically met them at all.
This can create a sense of intimacy – a deep knowledge of another person: but it is illusionary, too – it is virtual, not real.
There is another complication. One of the recent changes in social media – for me, at least – is the crossover between offline and online: people who know each other on social media are meeting offline too, face-to-face at Tweetups or Twestivals. I have been to a Tweetup in Edinburgh and I regularly to Tuttle, a regular social media, offline meeting place; I’m going along to Ale2point0 – a social media meetup with beer – in a few days.. The people I meet at these events become offline as well as online contacts and friends: the social in social media. A lot of these relationships are mainly online, but some become solid, intimate offline friendships too.
It is quite hard to know what to think about this. The internet, social media and the interaction with offline relationships are new, and people haven’t developed behaviours – or even words – to manage these situations yet.