When did “normal” people become virtual?
People are constantly updating their “status” on social networking sites, like Facebook and MySpace, to let their family and friends know exactly what they’re doing at any given moment. People are doing the same with even more frequency on Twitter, “tweeting” their status incessantly, in a veritable stream-of-consciousness outpouring, the likes of which used to be content with dominating one’s own subconscious and not the computer screens and mobile devices of others.
For some, legitimate uses exist for this technology: a student traveling a long way from home whose family wants to keep tabs; an instructor who needs to communicate something briefly and quickly with relatively large numbers of people; a business who would like to broadcast their upcoming fire sale and pull in as many potential buyers as possible; the egoist who has convinced himself that all his friends want to know what he’s doing, and thinking, from the moment he wakes until he falls asleep.
For the egomaniac, the “status” has given new life to Shakespeare’s Jaques’s addage proclaiming “All the world’s a stage,” sans the exits and the entrances, as one’s status, usually announced in a moment of physical absence, can last anywhere between mere seconds or a lifetime and encroach on another’s sense of privacy at any point in time.
In the context of “normal” people, even the most socially inept and reclusive humans have gained the ability to cast themselves as extroverted socialites. Those who previously couldn’t carry a conversation with another person can now “tweet” their way to the awareness of others with minimal effort.
Other virtual means of communication now approach the eclipse point of more traditional methods as well: some find it perfectly acceptable to email someone, or send them an instant message, to see how they’re doing, instead of making a phone call or a personal visit. In a sense, this is more of a convenience than a ritual, as our busy lives these days leave us little time for leisurely chats, and long distances stand in the way between family and friends and migrated loved ones.
But these lines of communication are easily misunderstood and often abused: there is a sense of such a mismatch between reality and virtual life when someone I have never met sends me an email containing an invitation to a party, which I would never receive because the person sent the email to so many people that my email client assumed it was a piece of junk mail, and that person expresses disappointment and disbelief in my lack of response.
This person never tried to call me, never sent me anything in the mail, and if this person were ever to approach me, I would have no idea who they were. Yet I have offended them by never responding to an electronic message that I never received.
We have become so “connected” to one another via the Internet and its technologies that we have disconnected ourselves from reality, from the very real existence of others and their feelings, and even our own calibrations of ourselves.
By the way: who decided that the action verb form of the word Twitter, which refers to the domain name of a web site, should be “tweet”? To me, this does a disservice to the previously existing dictionary entry regarding a sound made by birds, which are commonly quite unobtrusive and pleasant to hear. I would have gone with “to twit“, which seems to capture the essance of the entire movement much more precicely.