Ever since electronic mail and internet message boards became widely used, we've all learned the potential and the limitations of the written word. In particular, we've all learned how important face to face contact, and in particular the nuances of tone of voice and of facial expression can be. It's no surprise that the emoticons came into use, trying to "bridge that gap", but emoticons are good for communicating only in broad outline, and not the details of interaction. One nice thing about this "problem"--the problem that it is hard to communiate and infer one's true feelings with words alone--is that trying to solve the problem makes one a far better writer and a far better reader. This is one allure of LJ. But beyond the problem of nuance, the lack of a context in which to put the observations in a journal render journal reading very different from other forms of communication. When a journalist reports friction with friends, then one is not certain if the journalist's friends are inconstant, or if the journalist is alienating friends, or both. One only has the views of the journal as a guide, and the journal is edited. Sometimes one can infer the answer from the way the journal is written, and in particular the sentences that are "missing" from the narrative. But sometimes one just must accept the journal at face value, because the truth is impossible to ferret out. The data is just not objective enough to know.
Even though obstacles exist to effective inference of the "story" within a journal, it's irresistible to make such inferences. But the problem with doing so is that one can so often be wrong. This creates a useful trait, though--one tends to view one's ideas as working theories rather than as fact. I think in "real life" we tend to put far too much trust in the evidence of facial expression and vocal nuance. On line, we know to reserve judgments about people, as our theories about what we read in e mail, IM and in weblogs evolves.
I'm puzzled by the addiction factor of these internet interfaces.
I read in yesterday's news the story about the California woman who is alleged to have placed ample micro-wavable food in the refrigerator, but otherwise left her two young children home alone while she went to meet a North Carolina man she met on the internet. Parents behaving very badly long predates the internet, but these kind of "lost my head on-line" stories seem somehow pretty prevalent to me. I wonder if the reason why some very imperfect situations arise from these internet contacts is that when one is only reading text and perhaps viewing a graphic or a picture, then the reader must supply so much of the nuance. The play of fantasy inherent in that process is intriguing, and I wonder if it prompts folks to "live out" the fantasy.
I went to webmd.com, my personal favorite resource for "off the cuff" information on anything medical, and ran the search term "internet addiction". The articles there said pretty much what I would have guessed they would say--that when an obsession with the internet causes one to neglect one's real life or to engage in risky behavior, it's useful to view internet use as a form of psychological addiction. I wonder if what makes the internet so addictive for folks is that one can use one's imagination to expand text and message board posts into an entire set of life alternatives to the life that one has at home. At home, one deals with a job, a significant other (or lack of significant other), physical, financial and temporal limitations. On the internet, one is liberated from so many of these constraints.
There's almost a luddite view of the internet that still is an undercurrent in our society, although I've noticed that as internet use inceases, so does societal acceptance. This view of internet interfaces among people is that they are all somehow inferior, bordering on bad. I do not subscribe, obviously, to this sort of thinking, as I find that the 'net has brought me in contact with so many interesting people. The internet is particularly good for helping people who imagine that they were almost space-alien unique to discover that We are not Alone.
Although it's fun, though, to find other interesting people on the 'net, the limitations in the medium always makes one feel that one really "knows" people, and yet does not "know" them at all. I've read that similar things happen in relationships which arise on pleasure cruises, when proximity and freedom from societal responsibilities creates synchronies of folks who would never be friends or lovers in "real life".
I think on-line friends are a wonderful thing--something to cherish. But I try never to forget that it is at home that I have my rich realities and my daily responsibilities. I have no real desire to visit an "island of lost boys" where I am freed of these choices and paths through some wish fulfillment based on an IM. I think that one of the hardest things we learn in life, but one of the most useful, is that the true path is often not the exciting path, nor the path in which all our dreams come true.
I'm looking now at a picture I took of a rose garden in southern California last April. The blooms are wild and free, and trees in bloom surround the little slice of scenery. I enjoyed that day in the garden, but I'd never imagine that I could live every day in the garden. Sometimes I think that it's tempting to imagine that some "other" world exists out there, which one can find without effort or true cost. In fact, if one needs to change one's world, one needs to take difficult steps first, because the fantasies steps are rarely the true ones.
As for me, though, I'll stay in my own particular world, but I'll still read journals, trying to look at distant planets I'll never visit.