Thursday, March 17, 2011

Oh How the Internet Age Has Changed Us

After a particularly nasty falling out with both a relative and a long distance "friend" whom I had only met online, I got to thinking about how much the internet has changed our lives.

The relative's unfriending (and relationship severing) was coming, regardless, but the "friend" came as a total shock to her and was followed with increasingly nasty demands to know why I had taken her off my "friends" list and what she had done.  It was more what she hadn't done than what she had.  I figure if I don't hear from someone for six months and they don't respond to emails, then they probably don't really want to be "friends."  And if it takes someone two months to notice that you've "unfriended" them, why would they be so offended to find they are no longer on your "friends" list?  I am flummoxed, as I was by the nastiness that followed when she finally realized I was no longer paying attention to her FB postings and had deleted her.  We had Never. Even. Met.

In particular, I think the Facebook phenomenon is nothing short of apocalyptic.  Wow, the power in that little click that allows you to "unfriend" someone.  And even block them!  The fallout that occurs when someone realizes you have actually unfriended them brings up a very interesting sociology question.  Why does it matter?  What is it that is so powerful and so rejecting when someone "unfriends" a person that sends them into a mania of trying to figure out why you did it, even going so far as to use someone else's Facebook page to send you a message to beat you up about it? (The relative, not the friend.  Still not answering - she can figure it out.)

Which brings me to the question of how many of your Facebook friends do you really know?  I recently accepted a friend request from a person with whom I had six mutual friends, based on the recommendation of someone I know and trust.  But I still don't know who he is, although I do know we went to high school together.  Did he ask to "friend" me because we had six mutual friends or because he remembers me?  I don't know, but he's now my "friend."  I also have many "friends" who are actually friends of my husband, most of whom he either works with or went to school with, as well as "friends" who know people that I know.  I have come to be friendly with some of them through Facebook and like them a lot from their posts.  But am I comfortable sharing my personal stuff with these people I've never met?  Apparently, I really am.

And that brings me to my biggest problem: Oversharing.  My family would absolutely agree with this statement:  I share way too much with the world.  I know it, but that's who I am.  I will tell people pretty much anything.  My life is almost an open book.  Sure, there are things my own husband doesn't know (relating to feminine stuff or long past emotional angst and I'm not going there...sadly, he knows most of those anyway), but for the most part, I share everything with everyone, whether I know them or not.  This is a problem for my very private family.  And when I think about it, I probably am giving way too much information about myself.  They say once something is online, it never really disappears, no matter whether you hit the delete button or not.  I have a tendency of speaking before thinking, writing things I send and then regret...it's a problem.  I've lost more friends over emails I couldn't take back.  Not to mention the nasty blog entries I posted up after being fired last year directed at my former employers.  Wow, how could I have thought that was a good idea?  (For the record, my family tried to stop me.  I just refused to listen.  Story of my life.)

But this new problem of who I want to be Facebook friends with and what I want to or should post has left me perplexed.

Fifteen years ago, computers were a relative rarity in most people's homes.  Now, almost everyone has at least one computer and some people have a computer for each person in the home, along with phones that will do pretty much what a computer will do, gaming systems, iPads, small personal gaming devices...I am constantly amazed at the difference between how I grew up (riding my bike, reading books, and one hour of television per day on the communal television in the family room) and how my children are growing up (XBoxes, Playstations, Wiis, personal televisions, cell phones).  Kids do so little outdoors now that it is kind of like we are raising a flock of vampires...you can see the blue flash of the television and computer screens late at night from behind the teenagers' blinds as you drive by.  My oldest son doesn't even come to life until mid-afternoon when his classes start and he usually doesn't go to bed until almost time for me to get the youngest kids off to school.  "Bedtime" is kind of a family joke now, with the kids getting older, and I have lost almost all control over when any of them go to sleep.  We go to bed before they do.  Admittedly, it's my own fault for giving so much intimate access to the technology in their bedrooms, but (I am ashamed to say) it keeps the peace.  People coming into my house are amazed at how quiet it is and repeatedly ask me, "Don't you have three children?"  It's just a bit scary.

It's true, I have sold my soul to technology at the expense of my family.  Is this dysfunctional?  We tried all of the normal activities - soccer, football, tae kwon do, academic clubs.  Nothing is as interesting as coming home and playing Mario Brothers or whatever it is that they play.  I don't even ask anymore.  I just send them into Gamestop and wait in the car.

I've read about people who actually buy programs to lock themselves out of the internet for several hours during the day so that they can get some work done.  It's actually that addictive.  I sometimes wonder if I could go back to the way it was way back when the dinosaurs roamed and there were no computers and cell phones.  You kind of get used to it.  And then addicted to it.  And now it's the way I express myself and communicate.  I have gotten increasingly reclusive as I've gotten older, both as a result of my social anxiety and my physical limitations.  I am working at getting out more, but social networking sites are a great way to maintain the relationships that I do have and maybe make some new connections.  It's also a way to sever connections that are toxic or no longer working for me. 

What I know for sure is that the way my kids relate to the world is going to be completely different than the way I dealt with it growing up, because I can see how much it has changed my own dealings with society and I didn't grow up with all of this really cool stuff that connects you 24/7 to everything.  My youngest son recently came home and announced, "I really wish I had an iPod Touch."  Maybe we should be living in a neighborhood with kids who don't always get the absolute latest technology the minute it comes out and books are the best thing since sliced bread because people still actually use their library.  (For the record, I've been using the library to cut down on my Kindle downloading expenses.  I've totally fallen victim to the newest and latest technology thing.  I'm even voting for my favorite American Idol contestants on their website through Facebook.  How low have I actually fallen?)

I hope I have given my children a gift and not a curse by allowing access to all this technology and it doesn't come back to bite me in the ass when I have a 45 year old living in my home who wants to sleep all day and stay home playing World of Warcraft all night long.  Now there's a nightmarish thought.  Just so you know kids, it's full time school or full time job or you're out on your butts after high school.  But, to make it in the world today, you need to know how to handle the technology.  So I kind of think the good sense I tried to instill will overcome the desire to live at home with Mom and Dad and game all night.  At least, it seems to be working in my oldest son, who goes to work, to class, does his homework, and is succeeding in a big way in college.  On the computer we bought him for his high school graduation.

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