The advent of the Internet has revolutionized the way people socialize. There's no doubt about it. There's something about hiding behind the anonymity of cyberspace that makes people exceptionally bold. Flame wars on web forums. Late-night chats with "friends" we hardly know. We can create new personas and represent ourselves in a totally different light. We can become whoever we want to become, and we can change as often and as radically as a chameleon. And often, we are lured into a sense of security and begin to reveal all of our deepest, darkest secrets.
A strange phenomenon, indeed. What is it about the Internet that makes us feel so safe? What are the implications of this sharing of personal information, thoughts, and feelings? Should we be so willing to spill our guts at the slightest prompting?
I don't have the answers to these questions, but I think that they are very important, nonetheless. I'm no psychologist, so I can't even begin to formulate into words the ideas that are running through my head. It's puzzling.
Speaking solely from personal experience, I can definitely say that the World Wide Web has induced me to admit to things I never would have otherwise. I've gained some personal relationships that way--but online relationships are poor substitutes for face-to-face conversation, as I must constantly remind myself. And, sadly, when I finally meet the people I've been chatting so earnestly with, we both find ourselves incapable of carrying on with the same degree of meaningful conversation that we previously prided ourselves on. We sink back down to lowly gossip and comments about the weather.
But one can't continue philosophical debate forever. A worthwhile goal for an idealist, perhaps, but as important as philosophy is, there are other things in life that matter, too. Sometimes nothing is more satisfying that tipping back in a chair with a copy of People magazine. Is there anything wrong with that? If I was in one of my trancendentalist moods, I would condemn it as a waste of time; a decaying of the mind; the decline of culture. But really, as a form of entertainment or relaxation, is there really any harm in it? As long as one keeps it in perspective, a resounding "No."
Back to the main point, before I get any more sidetracked. Why do we feel the need to open up ourselves online, either to real-life friends or complete strangers? My conjecture--because we feel that somehow, we're lacking in our "real" relationships, and someone we must make up for that absence in our "pretend" lives. That's depressing, but does it make us pitiable? Once again, I'm not sure. A friend said to me recently, "I'm beginning to realize there's not much difference between something that is tragic and something that is life." An interesting quote, and another example of someone who is compelled to lay his thoughts bare during an IM session. Heck, isn't that exactly what this blog is, too? Private contemplations broadcasted to the world?
Maybe it's our age. Maybe it's the age, as in the current decade and current information technology and means of communication. Regardless, it's not healthy to wallow constantly in self-pity, and it's really not fulfilling to ponder the meaning of life at the expense of letting life pass you by. And maybe we need to learn to keep our traps shut (or our fingers still) instead of exposing all of our insecurities, lest we turn into a generation of emos who are incapable of entertaining happy thoughts and having good fun. We need to find a nice balance between the sacred and the secular, methinks. I think that will make life and communication a lot more enjoyable in the long-run.
After all, as much as I whine and complain about how unhappy I am, I'm really not unhappy at all. I'm damn lucky, in fact, something that I forget all too often. I live a good life; a blessed life, so it's time for me to suck it up and quit looking for sympathy that I neither want nor deserve. Cheers, and a toast to the beauty of life!