I took a break from working at home today and thought I should change the atmosphere a little by going down to a pub I haven’t visited in a while. They have good music, good tea and a wireless connection, enough to motivate me to take my laptop out into the world. Enough for me to figure my machine lacks the software to hook up to the wireless network… and to get it I need to download it off the internet, so you can see my dilemma right now.
Looking around at the people sitting at other tables, I see two types of couples: human plus human and human plus laptop. In the very room I have set up my working spot, there’s only one table occupied by a chatting couple and three other tables, mine included, each with one person and one laptop. How dependent have we become of the internet and why do we allow it to own such a great deal of importance in our social lives? Good old fashioned letters have been replaced by e-mails or messenger programs, books have been replaced by pdf files and our whole identities fit into a Facebook profile. We upload good looking pictures of ourselves, we search for like-minded people through the web, we flirt through on or offline messages. I agree that the internet speeds up communication and earns us a great deal of time, but when have we become so time deprived as to give up the ‘personal touch’?
Most of my friends (I can only think of two who don’t fit the description) are hooked to online social networking. If they fall for a guy they know close to nothing about, before even considering going out with the person for a talk that they can learn more from, they log onto Facebook and start stalking their potential date-to-be. They see if he has any relationship status out there, any pictures involving other women, any shirtless pictures for body-evaluation, common acquaintances or wall posts one can relate to. After doing that and sticking many labels, they evaluate whether the guy is a “good catch” or not. How relevant is internet stalking to a potential relationship, and is it really time-efficient or rather a complete waste of time? Why do we choose to do this first rather than request a date?
First of all, every person setting up a profile is actually designing a more or less accurate mask to hide behind, a more or less relevant image behind which they feel safe to communicate. Relying so much on what a profile has to show us is settling for just a tiny part of the big picture. Obviously, the profiles will have information on education and hobbies, but they won’t tell you how that person is handling their college or job, they don’t have a “defect" section for one to list all their bad habits, all in all, they can’t really sketch an image accurate enough for “potential-partner evaluation”. But instead of most people acknowledging this, they keep on stalking and drawing conclusions that might find themselves far from the truth.
We can understand why people build up these profiles, since they are safe images to hide behind, and if done right can seem completely flawless, but why are others drawing conclusions based on internet profiles and not face-to-face profiling of the person? We want to be able to evaluate everything and even foresee how certain things will turn out. Fear of rejection and vulnerability is something we are all familiar with, and instead of risking to be turned down on a first date with somebody who seems interesting yet we don’t know enough about, we rather take a look on the internet, from the comfort of our own homes, safe to make whatever assumptions our mind might scorn up and safe to fill the gaps of information with our own desires. We think that this way we can prevent having unpleasant surprises or awkward moments of silence. We build up imaginary conversations in our heads with the person we imagine the profile would be. But once we come face to face with the one we have stalked online, things might turn out very different than expected. The immaculate guy we read has been studying at two universities might actually be a narrow-minded almost drop-out, struggling to count the great number of exams he still has to pass so as not to repeat the year once again, the talented artist could very well prove himself to be an arrogant asshole, the successful good looking lawyer might be an emotionally retarded guy, in a full time relationship with his job and with little or no interest at all in getting involved in anything else than that. Rigidly expecting a person to be what we imagine him or her from the little information the internet provides us is a straight way to disappointment.
We should always give real-life enough room to surprise us. Not all surprises will be pleasant, but even those that won’t be, will prove themselves good experiences to learn from. So, next time you find yourself staring with a brain-dead smile at somebody’s profile, think twice before gluing the labels and take the time to evaluate the lack of information for what it is: room for discovery, not blanks we must fill in and expect them to be as imagined. We mustn’t fear not knowing and not being able to predict everything about a person, but embrace the endless possibilities that are laid down before us. This way, when we do meet face to face with the guy or girl that has captured our interest, we will feel more inclined to let him or her unravel their identity, rather than ticking the checklist in our heads of what that person “is supposed to be”, according to us.
We wonder how stereotypes have lived on through so many years, even though individuality has been so largely promoted and each one of us manages to prove themselves unique in one way or another? Well, we have all contributed to this factor by settling for the little information that has been shoved in our faces instead of journeying deeper into the people around us. And that is one journey you can’t only accomplish online, or through what common acquaintances might have to say, since the subjectivity of others might not feed our own values. You gotta get yourself away from the computer, out of your home, meet the one you’re interested in, go out for a walk in the park or a beer in your local pub and talk, listen and observe the other’s non-verbal signals. Words are such a small part of communication, and the internet can’t provide for body language and genuine eye contact.
As I’m now preparing to leave with my machine-date, I look around in the same room. One couple at one table, 3 tables with loners such as myself at this time and yet another table with an interesting party of three: the girl, the guy and the laptop.