Of all the areas of life that computer and communications technology seems to be impacting the most is its influence on relationships. Mobile phones, texting, facebook, and Twitter are just a few of the ways in which relationships are being redefined, established, and maintained by technology. We have entered a new era of Relationships 2.0. Read more...
My concern focuses on the more personal and social aspects of Relationships 2.0. For example, I hear many people talking about all of the "friendships" around the world they have made on the Web, whether through social networking, gaming, or dating sites, or sites that reflect their beliefs (e.g., political or religious) or their interests (e.g., technology, sports). There's no doubt that the Web has enabled people everywhere to connect and communicate like never before, but I would argue that connection alone doth not a relationship make.
Just like the use of the old term, virtual reality, many people in Relationships 2.0 have what I believe are virtual relationships, yet consider them to be real relationships. Virtual relationships have all the appearances of real relationships, but they are missing essential elements that make real relationships, well, real, namely, three dimensionality, facial expressions, voice inflection, clear emotional messages, gestures, body language, physical contact, and pheromones.
Is Taylor correct? For all the in-depth conversations with like-minded folks in forums, for all the Twitter conversations that last too late into the night, for all the personal e-mail exchanges with virtual friends, are we losing the true meaning of "relationship?" Or, is new media redefining what relationships are? My online friendships may be quite different from my in-real-life ones, but I think they are equally as valid.
Virtual relationships are based on limited information and, as a result, are incomplete; you can know people, but only so far. When connecting with others through technology, you get bits and pieces of people - words on a screen, two-dimensional images, or a digitized voice - almost like having some, but not all, of the pieces of a puzzle. You get a picture of them, but you lack the pieces you need to get a complete picture of that person.
But virtual relationships can seem so real. I blog for a group of mobile-technology web sites and the email banter among the almost-exclusively-male staff is no different than if a bunch of guys were sitting around drinking beer and watching football. Despite very clear geographical and political differences, the camaraderie and support is amazing. Yet, would this group get along if they met in person? I don't think so. Perhaps that is both the beauty and the shame of online relationships.
Are not many offline relationships based on limited information? Take work friends, for example. The bonds we form with colleagues tend to be sort of limited in scope. We may, say, grab a drink at the pub after work, but not necessarily hang out beyond that interaction. Or, we may find that once one party moves on to another job, the bonds of friendship slowly fade. All-encompassing friendships are rare. Even my oldest female friends, who know me very well, don't know everything about me. I think in most relationships, we bond over commonalities and save the parts of ourselves that don't gel for other people.
I have a full real life. My best friends may not be nearby, but I do have companions to spend time with. I have hobbies and interests. My online relationships merely add to these things. I don't fancy that all of my cyber-friendships would translate to the real world. Some I am pretty sure would. Am I being naive?
What do you think--are online relationships real?