The internet allows for instant communication with people from all over the world. We can email, blog, instant message, “poke” on Facebook, Skype call — and, potentially, all without ever seeing the body behind the text or voice. The pessimist might assert that these communications are superficial, detached, and “not real”; we are ignoring “real” people in favor of glowing screens and lines of text.
Yet this point of view invalidates the incredible, long-lasting, very real relationships that people such as myself develop over the internet. There is the chance that we may never see in person, or even in photographs, the people we interact with this way. However, with things like Skype Video and Face Chat and “selfies,” it is easier than ever to match a face to the text. And anyway, even if I’m not talking with a person face to face, they are no less a person and our conversations are no less valid.
I met my boyfriend of 2 years, and many of my close friends, through the internet. Connecting with people is easier than ever, so it stands to reason that it would be easier to make new connections, too. Some, like my boyfriend, I might never have met without these amazing technological tools we have available nowadays. In my opinion, it is easier to discuss personal things, interests and preferences and fears and aspirations, through text online. Perhaps the lack of face-to-face interaction reduces the embarrassment or anxiety, because you can’t see the other’s person’s expression and reaction.
Of course, this is the same reason why so many attempt to discredit internet friendships and relationships. There is a degree of anonymity when your body is visibly “detached” from the words you say. “Ragers” and “trolls” run rampant on the internet as a result, freed by their invulnerability as a result of their anonymity, and lacking in sympathy for others who are similarly faceless. Shows like Catfish and To Catch a Predator warn that the friend you’re communicating with online might not be who they say they are. Where the body, and the identity, are potentially invisible, there is room for abuse, there is no question of that.
But this can provide a comforting safe haven for individuals with social anxiety or identities that are not typically accepted in their mainstream culture. Communities arise online where people of all kinds can congregate with others like them. The body can be temporarily escaped from, or can be advertised with selfies and self-portraits. Just as importantly, acceptance of these bodies can be sought and found in accepting groups online, where this acceptance might be hard to find “in real life.”
Those who treat the internet as a scary and dissociated kind of place are, in my opinion, merely lacking understanding of the innumerable diverse communities and avenues for interaction that exist online. I think it is sad that they are denying themselves a way to meet and get to know people from all walks of life everywhere and anywhere in the world; they are simply afraid of what they cannot understand, and so they are refusing themselves an incredible opportunity that simply did not exist 60 years ago. Human contact does not only have to be face-to-face, and contact made through text with someone hundreds or thousands of miles away is no less legitimate.