A few weeks ago I had an interesting conversation amongst friends in the dark corner of a Chinatown Bar.
Of all things one could discuss on a Saturday night at 1a.m. we got to chatting about, well, chatting. Specifically, on voicemail, e-mail, IM, SMS, FB and Twitter.
Leave it to the nerds.
As biggest nerd ever, I thought more about this over the course of the next few days.
While the aforementioned mediums make it easier to communicate, while we participate we’re sacrificing the human experience and encouraging alienation from others.
My friends know that I generally dislike voicemail. It’s rare that I leave them and admittedly barely listen to them.
They’re like an awkwardly scripted one-way time capsule from the past. Why not leave the same message in real time – circa now?
In 1995 I signed up for my first email address. In the interest of self-disclosure for the sake of this story I (gulp) became semi-addicted to AOL chat rooms.
This was back in the day when we were all on dial-up – and paid for internet by the hour.
Like most people, I was beyond intrigued with the notion of chatting in real time with anyone from anywhere in the world. For a angst-ridden teenage girl growing up in the midwestern suburbs it was my portal.
Ironically enough, I quickly became friends with someone who happened to live nearby. We immediately bonded over our mutual obsession of music, media, the arts, and local underground parties (ok fine, “raves”).
There were no rules. We’d chat anytime of day or night when both of us happened to be online. There was no limit to the range of topics we’d discuss.
Over time, our lives became closer and he felt like a real friend.
One year we briefly met in person by total accident. We chatted for a few awkward moments until my friend pulled me away. “Who is that guy?” She asked.
She didn’t even have an e-mail address at that point so maybe she wouldn’t understand…or would she? I tried to explain.
“Ok, anyway…”, she replied. “Wanna get some frozen yogurt?”
When I moved away to college our friendship continued.
He’d give me feedback on various art projects and tips for acclimating to a newly vegan diet. I’d give him girl advice and let him know what I thought of his latest remix. We’d crack jokes, share URLs and pontificate the meaning of life years later as I procrastinated writing those 30 page papers in grad school.
He moved to Los Angeles, I moved to Boston.
We became friends on MySpace, then Friendster, then Facebook.
I moved to Los Angeles.
We slowly became friends In Real Life. Bonded by our mutual common interests, I’ve found myself on more than one occasion chatting with him poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel or under the skylights at LA hotspot Bardot.
My male companions give him the hairy eye wondering who the dude is I’m chatting conspiratorially alongside.
15 years later, we still communicate on IM. Now, we also communicate via SMS and e-mail too.
And sometimes, we’ll even drop the other a Voicemail.
Are our lives intertwined? Somewhat.
Will we ever connect on a deep and meaningful level? Probably not.
As part of different spheres, our interests overlap on a social level only.
Yet for someone I’ve hung out with for maybe an hour total in person, he probably knows more about me than anyone.
Communicating on IM can build a form of friendship. We’re missing the part that hanging in person brings – the adventures, atmosphere, lingering conversations, observations, body language. These things bring meaning to a surface-level friendship and make it come alive.
Can a real friendship be fostered online then, when all we have is type?
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