Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thoughts on Online Personas vs. Real Life Relationships

I received an email from a stranger yesterday. I have no clue where it came from. The subject line had "re:" in it but I'd never seen that subject line before, so I was not in the original thread.

Well the message was short but true. It said something about people living through their virtual lives and some liked that better. Well that part is sad, the idea that someone would like their online persona better than the real them. This struck a chord with me and it's something I've thought in the past especially about certain people I know both in real life and through their online presence. I also have had the experience to read a blog for a couple of years and life seemed rosy then later secrets are shared that reveal quite a different picture, thus, their online persona was not just a little fake.

Before I go on I'll insert that a couple of days ago I was home all day and evening. I was really busy and doing things but I still had time to pop online to blog and tweet and check my Facebook. By about dinnertime I was starting to feel bored and a little blue. My husband went to the Cub Scout meeting with our younger son and my older son went along as well as one of his Scoutmasters was to be there and he needed to speak to him. I was just in no mood to deal with the zoo that the Pack meetings usually are. I've hit full burnout from Cub Scouts after ten years.

So I was alone in the house and had time on my hands. I had the gift of time and peace, a cause for celebration! I popped around the Internet to my usual places for some kind of intellectual stimulation or to find something to make me smile. I hoped for an email from a friend that was a "friendly voice" in cyberspace. I came up empty. The blog posts I read were boring. None of my friends were posting anything interesting on Facebook and Twitter seemed dead and uninteresting, and my email inbox was even empty of discussion board posts. I suddenly had a empty feeling that I needed a friend and no one was there.

To shake myelf out of this I shut the computer off and phoned my father to say hello and see what was new with he and my mother. I wondered if I ate something 'extra' would it make me feel better? There was no dessert here, no candy, nothing that was a treat so I just had a glass of water. Plus, I was telling myself that what I was looking for was to do some emotional eating which I know really doesn't help anything anyway.

I picked up a book and read some of it. I did a couple of things in the house that needed doing. I did some knitting while watching a TV show on my DVR. Then everyone came home and I talked to my kids and we did our usual nightly routine then it was time to go to sleep (and I woke up refreshed and happy).

That experienced underscored for me (yet again) that sometimes the busy internet can be a lonely place. Sometimes we look for fulfillment from something like the internet or the computer that just can't provide it, because those virtual communications are just not as fulfilling as more personal 'real' relationships.

Between that experience of looking for some kind of emotional stimulation or emotional fulfillment via internet chat boards, blogs, social networking sites or email and not finding it, and that email I got yesterday about some people liking their virtual online persona better than tehir real life, I was reminded again that what we share online (or in any other way such as what we say in a phone call or what we share while at a barbeque party) is just a slice of ourselves and our lives. There is no way in any part of our life that we can share 100% of who we are and what we've done and what we think. There is not enough time so what we share or what people see of us is just a slice of us.

I have a lot going on in my life and it feels odd to know that close relatives and close friends don't always know major things that have happened in my life or what is on my mind, my current worries or what I'm happy about. I barely have time to live my life and do what I do; I don't have time to phone my mother and tell her everything I've done, then email a friend to tell her, then blog a story about it. I just can't.

I also realize everyone else is busy living their lives and they don't have time to hear a ton about my life nor would they probably want to. It's true that I tweet a lot but I don't feel that I'm burdening anyone with my tweets (they can unfollow me if I bore or bother them). I also don't pretend to think that every tweet of mine is profound but I throw it out there and what anyone thinks of it is their own business. At the very least what I choose to tweet is not hurting someone so it's harmless chatter if nothing else.

The only people I knew who hung on my every word were my lonely grandmothers who were living at home alone and had nothing but time on their hands. They wanted to hear anything and everything in a phone call or face to face visit. Howevers sometimes what they heard stressed them out so it was not good for them in the end! They'd worry more than I did about problems happening in my life. Other times they would say they didn't like modern life and that life in the old days was better and they'd had enough of the craziness that happens today.

I was reading something recently about book authors. We may love their book but when meeting them in person sometimes we are disappointed. This is because their personality is different than their thoughts, their written opinions or their fiction writing story ability. From watching BookTV I have learned that some excellent writers are terrible public speakers and orally they could not convey their thoughts anywhere near as well as they did in the book of theirs that I read.

This blog is a slice of my life. What I share here is just a part of my life. I also don't "live to blog". I am living and doing things and just some of my life is shared here.

The email groups I'm on, the emails I write, the phone calls I make, and the face to face talks I have are just small snippets of my thoughts, ideas, and my stories. Some real relationships are entwined with those communication media but the communications themselves are not the friendships or the relationships.

Perhaps that is why I'm always a bit hurt when a friend tells me they read my blog and felt they "knew what was going on with me so didn't feel they needed to call me or see me". To me the relationship in real life is real, our friendship is real and it is a two-way street. A friendship is not me writing and publishing words on a blog so you can read it and feel you are my friend. This is doubly-true when my friend doesn't blog or rarely shares info and thoughts via email so I can know what is on their mind. Any real friend of mine who reads of a hardship on my blog and chooses not to contact me to at least say hello and "I'm sorry your husband lost his job" perhaps is not a real friend to me. Yet oddly I have received greater condolences from strangers who know me only online or from acquaintences who I didn't know even read my blog. Then I'm left asking myself, "Are not online relationships of some value after all?"

It's alright to share thoughts and stories online to the world, they may be (probably will be) read by strangers. I don't know who is reading, why they're reading it or what they think of it most times. But occasionally I find out that my real life friends and acquaintences are reading and then choosing not to relate to me in real life crushes me. Perhaps this is how some teens feel when they share their hearts on Facebook and know hundreds of their FB friends are reading it and no one reaches out or few have a kind word to say in response (while the rude comments seem to be shared so easily).

The take away message I have is not to dwell or rant that some people may put on a false online persona or to accuse that all people are fake online. The better message to focus on is that online communications are here to stay in one form or another (they shift over time, less email, more text messaging, less MySpace, more Facebook) but they should not replace real, deeper relationships.

Online communications may be faster or are easier to share but we need to make some minimal amount of time to nurture some certain number of real relationships with face to face communications and phone calls or we'll all wind up alone sitting staring at a computer screen or staring at a tiny smart phone screen and feeling lonely amidst a world of chatter that is broadcast out to the world but is not a two-way conversation.

Choose to take the time to have two-way communications. Make the time to see a friend. Pick up the phone when you have time to talk. Even if you reach their voice mail, their heart will be warmed to know you thought of them enough to call.

And if you read something online that would indicate a friend needs a shoulder to lean on give them a call on the phone. Reach out to them when they need it and they will reach out to you when you need it.


christinethecurious said...

I've noticed that some people are very "in the moment," or in person people, and others are not as affected by physical distance. My old friends that wrote letters when I moved during High School are the same ones who now leave facebook comments or blog ones.

Perhaps bloggers are more likely to type a comment than face to face friends?

I don't always share what my embarrass my family, in fact, I let them read it over before I click the publish button, so my blog too is edited.
on the other hand, surprising little does actually embarrass them.

Glad you woke up refreshed, glad you and your husband are trucking on despite the job, it sounds like you are all enjoying his physical presence a lot. Glad that some of your homeschooling concerns are clearing up and that you chose to share the process. Thanks for your generosity.

Christine in Mass

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Christine, I'm sorry but I am having difficulty reconciling these lines:

1)"I also have had the experience to read a blog for a couple of years and life seemed rosy then later secrets are shared that reveal quite a different picture, thus, their online persona was not just a little fake."

2)"This blog is a slice of my life. What I share here is just a part of my life. I also don't "live to blog". I am living and doing things and just some of my life is shared here."

My thoughts: If a blog is just a slice of the blogger's life--and I agree that it is--then what is shared is by definition incomplete. And there is a difference, I think, between choosing not to share certain difficulties and being fake. Sometimes, too, a blogger may be revealing only certain aspects of what is going on for good reasons. For example, difficulties with one's children are always a place to think before blogging, because the child involved does deserve privacy, and because spilling everything on what are essentially public blogs could possible do damage and make the problem worse.
And perhaps, too, a blog is really "a slice of life across time"--IOW, a blogger cannot possibly share everything right here right now, and consciously chooses to reveal some difficulties now and some later.
I know for myself that there are difficulties that I will never share, and some that are better shared after resolution because other people are involved, and I feel an ethical obligation to at least think about the impact on them before spilling my guts in public.
Finally, like you, I sometimes stop in amazement and realize how little some relatives and friends really know about what is going on in my life. Some of them do contact me regularly, and others don't. But unless they are here and part of it, none of them has a very complete picture. I don't know if there is--or even should be--a remedy for that. They have their lives to live, too, and now that we are all adults and do not live under the same roof, it may not even be appropriate to always share everything.

I, too, sometimes look to the internet to relieve momentary boredom and angst. Sometimes, I find something good and sometimes I don't. I, too, have restless moments when the family is gone--quite a bit these days as we go about the process of moving--and I wonder if that does not have to do with changing from being a mother of a young family, to the mother of grown-up children. There is some grief, I find, in letting the little birds fly, even though it is very enjoyable to see where they choose to perch!

Good luck to you and yours this year! I enjoy reading even if I don't much comment.

sm said...

yeah, i hear you.
my blog was public and i posted about the local HS group unjustly banning my family from membership and i got ALOT of hits, but no comments. no phone calls.
it was very disappointing to hear the silence - and it's implied consent - and it saddened me that people's interest in me was mostly gossip-based, and not true connections.

i've since moved my blog to private, and stepped off the gossip mill.
it's like shutting the curtains in my house: people are still warmly invited into my home, but soundless, incomplete snapshots of my life are not entertainment for folks walking down the street.

ChristineMM said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.

To Elisheva, the fault is mine for being too vague about an important point. I intentionally didn't tell the details of the perfect scenario but I'll give a similar example.

If the purpose of a blog is to discuss homeschooling and the person is very religious which if living true to that religion would mean not living doing X, Y and Z....and the person blogs and comes off holier than though and preachy and gives the impression their life is all perfect viewed through the lens of that religion, then it is found out they are doing X, Y, and Z that is sinful and worse than probably many of the readers of said blog and it's a bad situation to say the least...

Meanwhile the blog readers were feeling they could never live such a perfect life and feel they are failures but in fact the one they held up in high esteem was so deceitful in their representation that it's ridiculous...

That's what I mean. That's a more than mildly fake representation. Thus the blogger was not just sharing true and authentic slices of their life they were misrepresenting and presenting a fake online persona that never existed in reality.

I have a real issue with people feeling they are not 'doing homeschooling good enough' when they hold themselves up to judge themselves against others when what they see is a false representation of reality. Then they feel bad & quit homeschooling.


Anyhow later in the day I realized my long blog post's message was basically we should take time to live our lives and most of that living is done away from online networking sites, away from our personal blogs and from FB and Twitter.

ChristineMM said...

BTW Elisheva I wonder if you'd enjoy the mothering memoir Gift of an Ordinary Day by Kenison. I loved it. If you are interested go to her website, view a video about it, or read my book review of it.
I loved it.

wonderinthewoods said...

Sometimes I think, "What am I looking for in this screen?" especially when real life is happening. I need intellectual stimulation while my family is watching mindless TV in the evenings. Now that I knit I'm on the computer less. Sometimes I think about ditching my blog. Now that I have followers, I wonder what they want to read about. I also hope for comments. When I first started blogging, I was writing for me only. I've had many of the thoughts you just wrote about...

ChristineMM said...

Wonderinthewoods I just read your blog for the first time. It felt like looking back in my life 6 years ago. We have a lot in common.

Love 2B Homeschoolers said...

Christine, this is something I've given much thought to even before you posted it. I read your post days ago, and have been trying to formulate a cohesive response, but am going to go ahead and just ramble...

It's getting harder as my children get older. I did not realize how many women were simply around because we were leading parallel lives, and now that our children don't need as much chaperoning, more dropping them off goes on, and I get left behind. I too, am getting lonely, and have been trying to focus on my own relationships outside of the influence of my children's.

I wish that we lived closer to each other so that we could share more of each others lives in person, and not just through technology. However, on the flip side, I do feel grateful that the technology does exist and that I am able to enjoy the relationship that we do have.

Had I known that you were not getting support for your challenges, I definitely would have reached out and called. I feel like our friendship is still new and that we are only very slowly getting to know each other, and didn't know if that kind of reaching out would be welcomed, or considered weird.

Next time I'll take the chance and call. And I hope that you will consider me one of the people that you can call when you need a friend.


Crimson Wife said...

Perhaps it's a matter of upbringing? I was raised never to air one's dirty laundry in public. There are all kinds of things I wouldn't discuss on my blog or Facebook or with my casual acquaintances that I would confide to a relative or close confidante. Some people are comfortable being very open on the Internet while others are more private.