I was just over on the MLA 2.0 101 blog, yammering on with comments about the use of social networking tools in libraries. This is kind of more of the same, mostly because it’s now 2:30 in the morning and I’m still awake. And still thinking. And all of this late night thinking has kind of led me to perhaps an answer to one of the questions I was posing in those aforementioned comments, i.e. what’s the missing piece I sense in the act of online social networking? I think perhaps it’s this… it is 2:30 in the morning and all of the people, plants and animals in my home are sleeping. All but me. I am alone – all alone – with all of these thoughts ruminating ’round in my head. I can fool myself into thinking I’m sharing them with someone right now by putting them here on my blog, but really I’m not. I’m really just thinking out loud to myself. Or better put, typing out loud to myself. (I’m not actually speaking at the moment.)
So I think the answer, in part, to my question is that in our world of virtual communication, too often we’re doing just that… virtually communicating. In other words, almost but not quite. I had a good friend move away several months back and we keep in touch often via email. We’re still a part of each other’s lives, still share thoughts about work and life in general. And in many ways, our virtual communication seems to make it virtually so much easier to stay in touch. Almost, but not quite. No amount of email and no amount of blogging and no amount of wall postings on a friend’s Facebook site will ever adequately substitute for a couple of hours together over lunch or dinner. The latter is real, the former a mere surrogate.
In the strangeness of 2:54 in the morning, I even can’t help but begin to think that the words I type here in this virtual space are virtually words, too. Not quite real. They’re not ink from a pen on a piece of paper. They don’t reside in my notebook. They just appear on the glow of my screen, sitting on some intangible space somewhere. And perhaps this is the crux of the matter, perhaps what remains most unresolved for me in my understanding and acceptance of these newer forms of communication. It is the blurring of the lines between the real and the virtual that I find slightly unsettling. The confusing of one for the other. The substituting of one for the sake of the other.
I’ve read that people experienced similar fears when telephones first gained popularity. It’s probably nothing new. And that thought virtually makes me feel better. Almost. Not quite.