Does happiness live in cyberspace?

An interesting piece from the BBC Technology site:

Is it possible that we can find friendship, fulfilment and contentment on the internet? Almost two-thirds of all adults now log on to the web. We spend more and more of our time staring at computer screens. The question is whether this behaviour is driving human beings apart or bringing us together.

Some random thoughts on the article… Like most things, a person could go either way with it. But the way technology is set up does make certain things either easier or harder, and we tend to go for the easy options. The idea (also in the article) that TV “makes” people into couch potatoes and “displaces” social interaction is inherently nonsensical. But it does make it easier to entertain yourself without having to step outside your door. It does make it easier therefore to cope with a lack of social interaction.

Like a lot of social phenomena, you need to look at what happens in terms of a whole ecology of inter-related factors that co-evolve. i.e. Society gets more fragmented, and more people live alone, which creates a demand for TV entertainment, among other things. The availability of TV (among many other things) makes it easier and more viable to live alone, and so might add to social fragmentation. So just like a rainforest, a whole ecology of lifestyles grows up where each element supports others, and no one thing is “the cause”.

TV viewing is now actually going down, partly because people spend time online instead. If we go back to the “real world” – well frankly a lot of it not tremendously well-designed to support any kind of real social interaction either. I daresay we’ve spent many hours in bars having banal conversations with people who we never really connected with in any meaningful way. But the bar didn’t “make us” do that. 🙂

In some ways, the internet could facilitate a deeper level of connection. True, anonymity means you could pretend to be somone that you’re not. But conversely, anonymity means there is freedom to be who you are, without worrying what people think of that.

Psychologists talk about the “Strangers on a Train” phenomenon. Sometimes you neet someone travelling on train, feel connected, and find yourself telling them things you haven’t told your best friends. Because no fear of what they might think, of consequences to the future of the relationship, of being gossiped about, and no past baggage between yourselves. Also applies online. But unlike on trains, the relationship can keep growing from there. And unlike on trains, or for that matter bars, you tend to be hanging out in places where people who share your passions and interests and general take on life are also hanging out.

In one of the first comments on the article, a woman writes about her son marrying someone from South Africa:

My son, based in Worcestershire, met a girl in South Africa whilst doing some research online. After six months of online dating including endless games of chess and meeting her family and friends during a link up to a party in SA, he finally made the journey to meet her. They married 6 months later in South Africa and she joined him at university in England a few months later. I find it amazing that he found his perfect partner (she shares his love of fishing, camping, travel and sport) thousands of miles away from what started out as an argument in a chat room. We feel so privileged to have such a lovely young woman as part of our family.

So, speaking from personal experience… It is quite possible to have banal conversations and superficial relationships in “real life”. It is also quite possible to have profound conversations and deep relationships online. And having great relationships seems to take much the same kind of things online and offline.

Original Post and Comments on my LiveJournal

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