Social networks and the virtual world

Hitchcock There were virtual worlds in the West before the advent on the internet.  In the 18th century, it was a Jane Austin novel.  In the mid-20th century, it was the films of, say, Hitchcock.  These virtual worlds were more or less fully formed, teaming with people and events we could relate to and identify with.  Fully formed, they were, but extremely well sealed.

These virtual worlds were closed worlds.  No one ever from stepped from an Austin novel or a Hitchcock film into our lives.  Yes, we might  say someone in our actual world was a lot like Darcy or Roger O. Thornhill.  But this was the work of imputation, with meanings transported across state lines, as it were. 

The virtual worlds of the late 20th and 21st world are something else again.  It is now routine to have someone we know from the blogging world or a role-playing game appear before us as flesh and blood.  And when this happens it always seems to me like a scene from the movies in which a character moves from one dimension to the next, materializing as he goes.  (What is that SciFi TV shows where they are always passing through that time portal?  That’s it, thank you, Stargate SG-1.  I believe they use even use that Star Trek "materializing" sound, now, I guess, the signature of cross dimensional transportation.  If and when his machine is real, it will come with this sound installed.)

So today, I am going to meet a couple of people for lunch in Manhattan who are friends of a virtual friend, so the remove is even more pronounced.  We do have a lot in common, our European friend.  Will this be enough to sustain a conversation?  Or will we all wish we were back on line in a more accommodating virtual world, where conversation and contact is too brief to awkward or onerous?

Eventually, we’ll learn to live in a new kind of social universe that consists of virtual and actual worlds living side by side.  We’ll learn to negotiate sudden transitions back and forth.  I guess eventually, we will have a protocol for negotiating these very odd social situations, but for the moment it’s all improv.

6 thoughts on “Social networks and the virtual world

  1. Will

    I’ve found that whenever this sort of thing (remote connections between people) happens, it tends to go really well; people tend to all realise how tenuous the connection is, and try doubly hard to find points of difference/similarity/interest.

  2. jens

    guess its improv. but then again, i always believe in bonds. (the one guy is actually the last living german who speaks absolutely no english) – so you have to go even more by empathic modes of communication. i thought that would be fine with you.

  3. Todd

    The thing that always intrigues and amazes me about these virtual connections becoming face-to-face is how it seems that our mental model or expectations of the person based upon our virtual interactions often don’t cleanly match the reality. The voice, the mannerisms, even sometimes the overall appearance of the person themselves are dramatically different than the personality we envision when limited to textual interactions. Especially in the case of blogs where no photo of the blogger is available (a case of which I’m guilty).

    As Will noted, though, more often than not these connections becoming “real life” tend to hold up fairly well, since the groundwork of connection and history have already been laid.

  4. seaweed

    I like this insight. I have been seriously involved in two different on-line communities since first getting the computer 11 years ago. One was a political board, and one was built around a TV show. I was struck by the depth and intensity of the relationships built in those two experiences. I had never thought of it as being similar to the relationships one has with favorite fictional characters, and the communities one “participates” in as one reads. It is really true!

    I was lucky enough to meet several friends from those on-line communities (and even married one of them!) Your blog helped me better to understand these odd relationships, in which the essence of the personality is more meaningful than the actuality of the “pressure of their flesh on a chair in my room” (C.S. Lewis)

  5. Tom Guarriello

    This is where the differences between YouTube and blog relationships differ pretty significantly. In the former, we’ve all seen and heard one another talk, opine, sing, blather, call our dogs, on and on and on, while in the latter we get snippets of (relatively, in my case!) pre-formed thoughts and need to fill in lots of filled-in details. That isn’t to imply that one kind of meeting is superior to the other, only that they are distinct. Enjoy the blogging hiatus.

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