Real vs. Virtual Lives

Doug asked Are virtual experiences driving out real life experiences? My response: yes.

As I wrote a while ago
My sister worries that her children are growing up in a world in which we're "on" all the time - always reachable by cell phone or IM or Blackberry or whatever new cool tool comes along - and in which we cannot distinguish between the personal and the public.
I worry that it's more than that: that growing up on-line and in a virtual community will create problems for us in terms of face-to-face interactions.

When Doug comments "Aren't kids discovering themselves and their places in the virtual world?", he's right. They are. But what about their place in the real world? If you're used to communicating via SMS or IM or e-mail, it may be difficult to actually hold a conversation. If you're used to letting it all hang out on your blog/MySpace/Xanga page, you may not realize that some people don't want all that information about you and your life. If you make friends with people far away and in different time zones, you may not be capable of having a real relationship with someone nearby.

I'm not saying that this is, in fact, the case with all children, every where. But it is something to worry about. Playing kickball and house with friends taught me to share and be a team player. Sitting in front of my computer playing Everquest may teach life lessons, but not the same ones. Not to mention the difference in calories expended, gross motor skills learned, etc..

I belong to an on-line readers community, and I've recently started blogging on a readers blog. That's me, bloviating alone and if someone reads, great. If someone comments, better. But let's not pretend that these on-line communities take the place of the personal touch, the intimate exchange. I much prefer the book discussions I have with my friends: I can see the excitement when I mention that I've read the latest ____ and I can hear the disappointment when that book doesn't grab them. Our brains do the "hypertext" links from Pratchett to Peake to Dickens. In real time, with real people.

Can a virtual life really take the place of that?


Doug Johnson said...

I love it when someone reminds me of a wonderful word like "bloviate" by using it.


bri said...

I wonder the same things about kids who are growing up now without ever having experienced the world without cell phones and IM'ing. But I guess others worried about the same things in past years (the world before telephones or before television or before electicity, etc) and somehow we all keep stumbling along. They certainly are different from us, though.

That said, I don't think that real life communities are always better than virtual. The infertile blogosphere, for example, is a really important place for many women. In real life, your closest friends may never understand and you may have to spend all your conversations defending your choices or educating your listener. That's fine for a while, but it's mostly not so fun and usually not a source of support. I could just NOT talk about it to avoid the hurtful things people say or the disappointments that friends really don't get it. Instead, I have a group of people who really DO get it and to whom I never have to explain an acronym. I don't think I could have made it through the last year without my friends in the computer.