11 December 2004

are we becoming more connected or drifting farther and farther apart?

The fact that I'm blogging nowadays is sort of an illustration of this conundrum. Technology has no doubt made our lives easier in nearly every way conceivable. Thanks to the internet and ancillary technologies like email, we can stay in touch with our friends and family across the street, across state lines, and across the globe. We have services like Match.com, Friendster, thefacebook.com, and Craigslist to either keep in touch with or meet those who we hope will be life-partners or friends.

But even with all these vehicles (and many more not mentioned), I can't help but feel like people today are more disconnected than ever before. There is this illusion that technology affords us the opportunity to establish and maintain relationships with an infinite number of people.

Yet, I see a problem in that there seem to be two kinds of people: 1) those who put themselves out there and actively seek connections and 2) those who choose to be more passive and wait for others to reach out to them. It seems as though there is an obvious disconnect between these two people. Those who are in the latter group (2) tend to be overly cautious, skeptical, or untrusting of anyone in the former group (1). In effect, those who are active in their pursuit of a connection are very likely to become disillusioned and think that no one reciprocates their sentiment or that maybe they're just not a good enough person that others would want to keep in touch with. Which turns them into the kind of people who sit around waiting for someone cool enough to contact them, only to realize that everyone is too wrapped up in themselves to do anything!

For a long time, since I moved to NYC, I was obsessed with reading Craigslist personal ads, mostly the "Strictly Platonic" section. I'll admit, part of the allure is a voyeuristic quality. But mostly, I am fascinated with the kinds of ads that are posted and what they convey about the condition of human relations today. How are so many people in the largest city in the United States compelled to advertise their loneliness and longing for companionship in the public domain? There are all kinds of connections sought, from a supposedly-nonsexual massage (yeah right) to going out for dinner and drinks to seeing the latest blockbuster movie opening this weekend to just wanting someone to chat with over IM.

I can't help but feel compassion and empathy for these people. Hell, I am one of those people (Yes, I have posted on Craigslist before...actually it was on the Rants/Rave section and I was talking about how I like to randomly read Craigslist for fun and expressed my fascination w/ the whole phenomonen of online connection seeking. I was lambasted quite brutally by some asshole who said something to the effect of, "Let me guess, you 1) don't have a gym membership, 2) wear Lisa Loeb glasses, or 3) have an ass wider than your shoulders" This situation has also added to my disillusion).

It seems that we post our messages seeking a friend, advertise our email addresses to the world, let everyone know what we're up to today on our away messages, but we're only willing to go to half the distance. It's as if we're saying, "Well, all you out there, the ball is in your court!" But if everyone's passing off the ball, how can anyone ever take a shot to score a point? (okay, I'm not that great at sports analogies).

The thing is that taking a shot involves taking a risk. It means that you might email an old friend and not hear back from them for a month or two. Maybe you'll post a personal ad and only get responses from 2 people who you would want to actually meet in person. Back in the day, you had to rely on meeting people and keeping in touch with old friends by calling on the phone, writing letters, or being brought together by mutual friends. Maybe some people still prefer those ways, but really, technology today is making the risks smaller and smaller. I think that we collectively need to take a more proactive role in creating and maintaining our connections with others (I acknowledge that I am included!)....it's a shame to think that we are so well equipped yet we are simply too scared, lazy, or self-absorbed to reach out to others.


Anonymous said...

Steph, it's Diana~ because I do not want to go through the hassle of signing up, I get to be mysterious and anonymous. I too have an online journal and I feel no shame! I think they're fun and I am glad that I can read up on what you are doing. And even though it seems, sadly, that the internet is the fastest, most efficient way of keeping in touch (whatever happened to good old letter writing and correspondence? oh yeah, too busy, and everybody keeps moving! :)) I am thrilled I can be updated so quickly. More power to the web log. And, as I have found out, its a great way to keep in touch with long distance, computer savvy family. I hope all is well in NY! LICO, Diana

alex said...

hooray for attempting to reconnect! alex feels similarly, although i have not yet discovered the joys of craigslist. one day, though...one day.

Elaine said...

As someone who mainly falls into category two, I will defend our behavior by saying this: the reason that we tend to approach relationships in a generally skeptical manner is because lots of category one-folk--though not all of them, certainly not you if you are cat 1--like to collect friends the way a privileged US college girl collects Longchamp bags (I've clearly been at both Northwestern and in Paris for too long!). Anyhow, I think there are people who value getting to know others, which involves making genuine connections and people who value having lots of casual relationships, which doesn't necessarily involve genuity.

Here's where the web mixes things up though: people who tend to express themselves well in words are not usually category one types (category one tends to include mainly people who say whatever the hell they're thinking as soon as they've thought it), and they might try to make more internet connections than the often less thoughtful category oners. So I think that the internet envisions a whole new world of connections based on words and interests, but not being able to associate words with a personality is hard. Maybe the brusque people you've dealt with are in fact category one people, or maybe theu just suck. And maybe I've morphed your two personality traits into the introvert/extrovert dichotomy. Anyway, so glad you have a blog and keep up the good posts!