On Screen

A headline caught my attention this morning on the daily commute. Most days I have a Londoner’s aversion to any paper that isn’t The Standard. However, I am willing to acknowledge the existence of The Metro since The Standard isn’t out until after 10am. What caught my attention was a story about someone being murdered because, of all things, their Facebook status. Now, the first thing that came to my mind is that it wasn’t their status that killed them, it was the homicidal boyf using that as an excuse to kill them.

It got me thinking about how much of our lives are carried out online. I’m no stranger to this phenomenon, I wrote my thesis on it. At the time of course my tutors didn’t believe it to be Sociological enough. My assertion that the internet was the new social space appeared ludicrous. “HA!” is all I can say to that. I’d like to say, ‘I told you so’ but I’m reminded of something I recently read which told me who the brother of, ‘I told you so’ is. So I’ll refrain.

Anyway, back to my point, and I do have one. It still amazes me, even after almost 10yrs of being a part of a social network that existed solely online, how much the internet has changed the way we interact with each other. Even simple things, like knowing a person’s age. Thanks to the marvels of the internet I can tell you where some of my friends are, who they’re with, and what it is they’re doing at any given time. But, ask me how old some of them are – I couldn’t tell you. Ask me the names of their brothers and sisters, whether they even have siblings, and I couldn’t tell you.

The basic things that we used to find out about people seem arbitrary now. Even the, I suppose now old-fashioned in terms of the internet, way of first getting to know someone by asking “A/S/L?” is old hat. For those of you not of my internet generation that stood for “Age/Sex/Location.” I suppose with the way we currently interact there is no need to ask those question. If we want those answers we can merely look at any number of online profiles to find it out. Of course, some are more careful about divulging these pieces of information than others. Then there’s always the issue of how much you can really believe of what is put online. Despite how long I’ve been online I still take a lot of things I see and read online with more than a pinch of salt.

I am a firm believer that you can get to know someone very well through the internet alone. I’ve had this conversation a few times with people. My inner circle is made up of several people whose SNs I knew before I knew their full name.To paraphrase a friend, yes there are people on here who are crazy, and there is that small percentage of people who want to hurt others, and there are more people who scream, “Look at me! Look at me!”, but then there are the others. That group of people who, without the barriers that the world outside of the walls of your monitor, allow themselves to be exactly who they are. Every once in a while, you come across someone who will do something that turns your whole world upside down. Sometimes you’re lucky enough for that once in a while to be more than once in a while.

I wonder how limited my social circle would be without the internet because it’s not just about friendships with new people that are forged online, many of my friendships with people I knew before the internet took over are made stronger because of the interactions I’m allowed to have online. Practically everyone I know has a MySpace or Facebook or other less obvious social networking site. I’m able to keep up to date with the people I do actually spend a lot of time with, not just the people I met on my last holiday or went to school with a lifetime ago. It can sometimes be weeks before I see or even talk to my friends, but I see them online all the time and I spend hours typing conversations to them.

Obviously, there are drawbacks to being social online. Murder being the extreme. I’m still thrown when somone mentions something and I wonder how they know about it, and then I realise they’ve seen my pictures on MySpace or they’ve read my status update on Facebook. I do miss some of the privacy I once had, but having the people I choose to have allowed into my inner circle know who I really am that much better, I’m not sure I would’ve been capable of letting them in any other way. I’m not even sure they would’ve stayed if they’d known anyone other than the person presented to them on their screen, but then I’ve always been better on paper.

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