Today I had the opportunity to try out the new “Hangouts” feature of Google+ with some local Twitter users. This new tool is just one more way that we’re able to communicate with people online versus in real life, or “IRL”. While tools like these are great for staying connected to people who distance would prevent you from seeing, I have to wonder what it’s doing to how we choose to build relationships.
It may be easier to open up a video chat with your “friend” but all of the pixels in the world aren’t the same thing as spending a few moments face to face. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten to know some really great people though online interactions, starting over a decade ago on the Vintage Mustang Forum, but when I got to meet them in person at the annual Corn Feed event, it showed how much our online interactions were lacking.
Back when Instant Messenger was all the rage I used to hear people say that they’d never meet up with someone “from the Internet” which always took me by surprise, because, after all, “the Internet” is not a place, it’s a communication tool. Message boards, instant messages, Facebook and now Google+ are great tools, but don’t let them become a substitute for real life because no matter how hard they try, they’re not the same thing.
That may sound like something everyone would just know, but I found it astounding that there are quite a few people who said that “online friendships” were no different than ones “in real life.” To me that says either I’m missing something or they are. Yes, it’s easier to hide behind the buffer of a screen, so it may make some situations less stressful, but more convenient in no way makes up for the depth that you’re missing on. There’s certain nuance that’s just not there, even with the best video conferencing, not to mention the intangible things like a caring embrace in your time of need.
Maybe seeing friends in person is just something that a lot of people take for granted, but don’t assume that’s a luxury that everyone has. Sure, you may talk with someone every day on Twitter, and they may live just across town, but when’s the last time you went out for a drink, or dinner, or for a cup of coffee? Instead of geeking out over how you can use the latest technology to stay connected, how about going low tech and giving someone a call to meet up in person? Not only will you get more out of it, but you just may make someone’s day by giving them something the Internet can’t, a real human connection.