Remember that one time?

(Please note, because of the time that has passed since I wrote this article, it may no longer reflect my current views or the most accurate and complete information available on this subject.)

CanopyOne of the trends that disturbs me about social networking sites and perhaps even online conversations in general is that the experience of interacting in those virtual spaces is seen by some as a substitute for real world experiences and interactions.  Or put another way, it's like we spend more of our time talking about how interesting and good we are at talking to each other, instead of actually talking about something.  I don't say this to discount those who have meaningful online exchanges or who find authentic joy in their online relationships, but I wonder what kind of meaningful definition of humanity we're creating for future generations, when what it has historically meant to "experience the world together" is being replaced with "experiencing Facebook together."

There's so much of a difference for me between "remember that one time when we went on that amazing hike, and all of the things we saw together" and "remember that one funny status update you posted on your FB account and what I wrote back - oh wow LOL good times!"  And I don't think it's just about individual preferences for how to spend time.  The meaningful shared real world experience doesn't have to be hiking...it could be a deep and/or challenging conversation; traveling together; raising a child together; worshiping or sitting in silence together; coming through some significant sickness or peril through someone else's care; experiencing the death of a loved one together...and so on.

These are experiences that have a substantial impact on who we are, memories that are worth preserving in some form for the day our lives flash before our eyes.  They shape us, evoke emotion, challenge our thoughts, highlight our vulnerabilities.  The things we experience together online - social networking status updates, blog conversations, etc. - seem like they're just "meta" stops along the way.

Maybe this isn't really something to worry about?  Maybe I'm just projecting a wistfulness about more time away from my computer screen?  Maybe all of the intensity and volume I see on Facebook and Twitter that is ABOUT experiences in those virtual places is misleading, and people are still out there having meaningful engagements with the real world all day long?

Or is anyone else concerned that Our Online World is becoming Our World?

Feel free to tell me in person, we can go for a walk together.

8 thoughts on “Remember that one time?

  1. Interesting thought. I wonder if it's the underlying experience that matters or the simply the fact that it's shared -- whether there is an inherent difference between seeing a waterfall together and seeing a picture of a waterfall together.

    And is that difference marked by the "realness" of the experience or by the difficulty of the experience -- would it matter if, say, two people had to crack through some tough security together to see the picture of the waterfall?

  2. You're just getting old. 😉

    Seriously: How is sharing Facebook any less real than sharing silence? There is no real world anyway, just sensory perceptions modified by a cultural lens. A hike in a wildlife reserve isn't much different from a hike in Disney, and that's not any more real than Facebook. Heck you live in a 21st-century city--can you imagine how not "real" that is compared to the distant past? When was the last time you ate raw meat that you killed with your bare hands? When was the last time your child died of dysentery? Let's get REAL here. Going for a walk is not really "real" either. You live and breathe a constructed fantasyland 24/7, totally removed from the state of nature that you don't have any platform to lecture from.

    Experiences in the "virtual" world can be as meaningful and legitimate as experiences in the "real" world. Someday when we're all plugged into the matrix you'll read this post and wonder how you could have been so wrong-headed. Facebook is a step towards reality, not away from it. Just a different one than you're used to.

  3. Nope, n/k. "Reality" has always been redefined for each successive generation. Nothing you listed is really real, from the perspective of even 100 years ago. "Hiking" is an invented concept; the verb "hike" was invented in 1809 and the noun in 1865. Sickness, death, traveling, and raising a child are all now much less real than they were 100 years ago.

    What it's meant "historically" to share the world together has changed dramatically over time. Even today it's vastly different spatially between cultures.

    What part of my response is confusing to you? Don't you think it's just a *little* presumptuous to try to define which experiences "have a substantial impact on who we are"? Maybe you, but not we.

    Have I eased your worries? 🙂

  4. I was being sarcastic about your getting old, though. I think you have more than enough time left to see your error! 😉

  5. Well, maybe that is as good a definition of getting old as any I've seen, then? Weeping for the future, hanging onto the past?

    I, for one, can't wait for life to get much less real, especially when it comes to sickness and war. Did you know that anesthesia was not used for centuries after it was invented b/c doctors were worried it wasn't keeping it real enough?
    http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/08/is-pain-a-moral-good/

    Right now there is still a big argument going on about whether to hang onto the old notions of what a constitutes a "real" childbirth. My personal opinion is that unless you're delivering Lucy in an Ethiopian savanna it's not real, so save the lectures on authenticity.

    Just one possible view out of many, though.

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