I got another wonderful comment on my “Rethinking my Connectedness” post. This one was from Larry Sanger himself. In the comment he said:
My disillusionment with the social Internet really doesn’t have to do with a dislike of specific tools. Like you, I honestly like what the tools I use do for me — if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be using them. What has me disillusioned is the opportunity cost the tools involve, and what I call the “pale shadow” of real human interaction that is Internet socialization. And now that so many people have moved so much of their free (social) time online, the actual quantity of social opportunities offline seems to be dwindling!
I think I understood all this from his original post, but perhaps I didn’t say it clearly, so I wantd to be sure to allow Larry to restate his position in his own words.
I am fascinated by this topic. In my case and the case of my husband, I would say that most of our socialization takes place online. Most of our non-work time is spent there. And sometimes it feels like a “pale shadow” of what we could be experiencing. But on the other hand, we don’t have a group of people here that we are ignoring in order to spend time online, so maybe it isn’t so bad. We are slowly developing such a group of friends and acquaintances, but we haven’t really gotten there yet. Is the Internet keeping us from doing that? No, probably not. It is our own laziness and, in my case, basic shyness. And yet it probably contributes more than I realize.
What am I missing by being online? That is a personal question that I will have to think about. But there is another question that is maybe more important. What could the Internet do differently to give us more real social interaction?
The answer, at least for me right now, seems to be community. Just as in the small town where I currently live, in an online community I am known. I am valued. I am cared about. I have belonged to such an online community for several years now. I have been on the sidelines for most of that time, but over the years I have seen people reach out and connect to each other in really intense and very personal ways. People in this community meet face to face. They talk on the phone. They interact both inside and outside of the community.
How is that community different from Facebook or some of the nings I have joined? The main difference that I see is real diversity of focus. It isn’t just about teaching English or about people who went to school with me. It is about all aspects of life. I can belong to the community and interact with people on many different levels and on many different topics. It is a much richer experience. Another difference is that the community has developed over time. There aren’t thousands of new people joining each year. There are new topics on a regular basis, but the old topics remain and can be revisited and reopened if the interest is there. The pace is slower and more thoughtful.
I don’t know if such a community would seem different enough in Larry’s eyes to qualify as not being faceless. But for me the experience there is hugely different from what I experience elsewhere.
Unlike Larry, I haven’t really written or even thought that much about this before. I am thinking as I am writing. I am learning as I go along. And I still have a lot to learn!
Thanks, Larry, for both your original post that started me thinking and for your comment that made me clarify my thoughts.