How often have you been tempted to mention one of your online friends to a family member, then thought twice about it for fear of being ridiculed?
Over the three years I have been a frequent blogger, I have had numerous snarky remarks from online readers who insist that the internet is not reality; that only face-to-face interaction has any validity; that the people with whom we connect online via blogging are only one or two steps away from being imaginary.
And yet, there they are, reading what I write.
Maybe for those who write statements like that, it is true. For me, it is not and I’m here to tell you why.
The same anonymity that provides an environment which allows mentally unbalanced trolls to lurk in the shadows of a blog site and pounce on just about every writer they read with rude and judgmental zingers, usually ending with an exhortation to “get a life!” – that same sense of privacy gives an outlet for individuals who are suffering all categories of life’s challenges to vent and share and obtain feedback from like-minded people with whom they have established some level of rapport.
But that’s not reality! say the skeptics and contrarians.
I say it is. It is just a different kind of reality and no one can prove to me there is only one kind. Reality has at its core the matter of perception. Take a hypochondriac. Just because there is no medical basis (as far as our still-limited medical sciences are concerned) for a symptom or set of symptoms in a patient, it doesn’t mean that the symptoms are not real to the patient. Whether they are spawned from physiological or psychological origins, the symptoms are as real to the patient as real can get.
So when a person who has just experienced the death of a child or is muddling through the impending death of a spouse for whom all feelings of love took a hike 15 years ago reaches out to his or her online community for support, the only real difference between that support and what the person could get in, say, group therapy, is the distraction of seeing the faces, bodies, and mannerisms of each other.
I call those things distractions because they interfere with the receivers ability to concentrate on the messages. Instead of reading the words offered – without the benefit/disadvantage of nonverbal add-ons like tone of voice, facial expression, possession of physical traits that trigger biases (e.g., some people don’t believe they can get real advice about weight control from an overweight person), – the person needing support gets side-tracked and begins to evaluate the input on the basis of something other than the written word.
I have friends on my blogging spaces about whom I know more than I do my best friend. Real life friends are sometimes reluctant to share their personal demons for fear I might think less of them. If the woman I’ve known since we were both in elementary school had problems coping with the death of her mother when my friend was a pre-teen, I don’t know about it. It is not a discussion she would ever have with anyone.
And the regular readers of my posts know a hell of a lot more about me than my own mother does.
So, no, I do not concur with the notion that virtual reality in the form of online friendships is bogus. Do some people embellish the truth? Probably. Do some people create bogus personae? It has been proven to be so. But it has also been proven to be so with what online detractors call “real acquaintances.”
Many of the people I interact with on my blogs have reached out at helped online friends offline. Some have made connections to secure jobs for unemployed and desperate writers or readers. Some have made extensive trips to meet each other in person. And currently, a seriously ill writer of extraordinary talent is receiving thousands of dollars in donations to allow him to complete his book before his disease robs him of his gift.
Could someone create an elaborate scam similar to this man’s dilemma in order to dupe unsuspecting softies out of their money? Of course, but not with the support of scores of stand-up people who have stepped in to vouch for this writer.
Any person who can be tricked on the internet can likely be tricked in person, too. It’s not about the venue, it’s about instincts and critical thinking and deductive reasoning. So, for those who are inclined to ridicule those of us who enjoy the camaraderie of blogging in a community of writers, perhaps a personal inventory of your own instincts, critical thinking skills, and powers of deductive reasoning is in order. The rest of us are doing just fine.