I've had this post kicking around in my head for a few weeks now. So, why drop it now, in the middle of all my Aion coverage? As usual, I blame Syrana.
Yesterday, she wrote a wonderful post about online interaction, followed up by another good read from Byaghro.
What makes it so much easier to drop out of sight over the internet and not in real life? Well, I'm going to take a more sideways look at things. Strap in kids, because even I don't know where this ride is heading.
Many people just don't understand how people can form bonds over the internet, over the phone, or by any means of communication other than face-to-face. Honestly, they come from a different universe than the rest of us. By "us" I mean anybody taking the time to read this post of their own volition. This conversation is naturally going to attract the more... connected among us.
Let's face it, someone who takes the time to read and write blogs about freaking computer games likely comes from a different time. A time when you were DEFINED by your screen name. Back when bulletin boards and chat rooms were our primary, hell ONLY way to contact each other, you weren't YOU. You were your screen name. You were unique. You were who you wanted to be. If you actually had a webpage, it wasn't about YOU, it was about what you liked, what you were interested in, in hopes of attracting like-minded individuals.
For several years, I WAS Prometheus. Prometheus was not a role I played. That was me. Prometheus was all the parts of myself I wanted the world to see, without everything else attached.
Prometheus became Ralken, and Ralken was soon Samodean.
Am I Samodean? Yes. Is Samodean me? Not really. Samodean is my persona. Samodean is the mask that I show the world. Samodean is a part of me, but not the whole.
Today's generation of the "recently-connected" does not use a persona. (By generation, I mean in a social and technological sense, not age-related.) They are online as themselves. Their MySpace, FaceBook, LiveJournal, Twitter and WhateverTheHellElse reflect themselves. They're out there, with no shell to protect them. THIS is why they do not interact in the same way that we do.
Our personae allow us a certain freedom that they lack. Of course, there are two ways to use an online persona.
First, you could prove the theory. (Warning: dirty language) When unrestrained with consequence, these people choose to pursue their base instincts. They demonstrate the worst of Alpha Male (or Female) tendencies. They can be vulgar, racist and just downright sub-human. These are the people that play Halo 3 on Xbox Live. These are the people who hit on random female character in Goldshire. They don't care about anything, but rather, just want to live out the things online that they could never get away with in real life.
Conversely, there are many who take a small bit of that thinking and do something positive with it. They want their persona to be what they feel to be the best they could possibly be in real life, without certain problems holding them back. "Sam" and I are very similar. Sam is what I would be if I were more confident in life. Sam can pursue trains of thought where I would be bogged down with doubt.
There is nothing in Sam that does not also exist in me. Where does this "false life" get me? I find myself actually channeling the Samodean personality in life. These days, my coworkers get more "Sam" than they do of my true self. Does this mean, I'm acting as my persona in life? I'd like to think not. I like to think of it as me actually improving as a person. I'm actually gaining the confidence that I should have rightfully been mine my whole life.
So, where does all this chatter about personae get us? When I meet someone online, I am not meeting them. My persona is meeting their persona. The BEST of me is meeting the BEST of them. It is much easier to form a bond, as we do not fear any repercussions from it. If I am rejected, what does it matter? It's merely Sam that has not made a friend, not me. Sam gets over stuff like that easier.
The FaceBook crowd have no personae to put out front. They are who they are, and are such less likely to risk embarrassment or rejection.
When you meet someone in real life, you don't instantly put yourself out there. You slowly give out small parts of yourself, your personality. Does every person I meet know I love comic books and anime? Does everyone Syrana talks to know she's a closet Jonas Brother fan? No, there is a certain stigma attached to those things, and I refuse to suffer their judgment. Now, once I've gotten to know someone a little better, sharing small bits of myself, and learning bits of them as well, I may feel more comfortable sharing things with them. This is how people become friends.
This long, personal process is so valued, the connections we make so valued, we strive to keep them intact.
The e-friends we meet? Our Twitter followers and guildmates? Without the time and devotion of forming that personal bond, we really don't think twice about what happens when we lose contact. This does not mean we cannot form meaningful relationships online, it merely means we are less likely to. There are very, VERY few people I've interacted with online that I have ever shared anything personal with. When there was a final logout or server change, when they connection was lost for whatever reason, I felt it, the same I would if a real life friend moved away.
Author's Note: This post is being published unedited, with the exception of grammar and spelling. I want this preserved as what I think. Whether it makes sense to a reader or not, I cannot confirm. Whether it's actually informative to the issue presented, I hope. This is the inner thoughts of myself, not "Sam." It will probably be one of the few, perhaps only times I write as such.