Online friendships are backwards. When I meet a person in “real life” (As if all the living that people do online these days is somehow fake. It isn’t.) the very first things I find out are what they look like, their approximate age, and their gender. All of that before I’ve even spoken with them. Within minutes of speaking I’ll probably find out thier name, where they live, and the names and ages of their spouse and children if any. All of this information gathered within minutes of meeting.

Online those bits of information are only revealed later in the friendship. We all wear masks. But wearing masks makes us feel safe and so we say and do things we wouldn’t otherwise dare to say or do. Those of you who read this journal almost certainly know more about my thoughts and my life this week than any of my neighbors even though I count my neighbors as friends and enjoy visiting with them.

There are good things and bad things about being masked. The mask allows a shy person to step forward without fear, to make jokes, to tease. The mask allows us to vent. The mask also allows the angry person to flame and spread vitriol. The mask allows us to pretend to be something else, sometimes harmlessly, sometimes dangerously.

Do I like the masking? For myself I’ve chosen a limited usage of a mask. Mostly I mask for the protection of others in my care. I do not parade the real names of my children, perhaps in some subconscious belief that like in the fairy tale rumplestilskin the knowledge of a name brings power. Someday they will be strong enough to defend their names, for now I do it for them.

I’ve so many more thoughts about masks and online friendships, but they seem to be jumbled in my head and I can’t pull them out in any organized fashion. Unfortunately I need my mental energy for other things this week, so an organized essay won’t be forthcoming. Oh well. The thoughts will roam my head and bump into each other spawning new thoughts quite possibly on entirely different subjects. And then I’ll spill them in here as a way to capture the shape of them before they mutate yet again.

7 thoughts on “Masks”

  1. Very appreciated

    You are sooo right. I myself tend to tell people online much more about myself than those folks around me (excluding my wife-to-be, of course). Sometimes it’s easier to talk to somebody on the other side of the world, who you don’t really know. Actually, that’s what I’m doing right now …

    Anyways, what I actually wanted to say is that I appreciate it very much that you and Howard don’t tell your kids names to everybody, even it might just be for above mentioned reasons. And besides that, the Zelda names you are using just fit in perfectly 😉

    Mooman, the one with the cow mask 😉

  2. But what about those people you are good friends with in real life…yet spend a good deal of time chatting online with? I know for some people, this doesn’t really change much about their personality, their apparent mood.

    But for me, and for at least one or two people I know, it’s not necessarily a personality shift, but it’s at least a lowering of barriers, or something. I find it much easier to talk online with friends, even if I could walk a few minutes and say hi to them there.

    Perhaps I’m a freak. *shrug*

  3. Real-life friendships are backwards

    It’s like you find out all these side-details of people — appearances and nervous mannerisms and who they’re related to and what their parents called them — and nothing all about who they are.

    Yet we make all sorts of decisions about people based on those side-details.

  4. Re: Real-life friendships are backwards

    Some of those side-details can be pretty critical. They feed our intuition about whether or not this person is safe to be around. When safety is in question, like choosing a babysitter for the kids, I would never never never trust someone without meeting them in person first to see what, for lack of a better word, Vibe I get from them. I’d also want to know lots about those side details to determine the reliability of the person.

    Where the only issue is friendship, then the internet has been a wonderful way for me to make friends that I probably would never have introduced myself to in person. Meeting online friends in person is something that I look forward to and I actually fear a little. What if we don’t get along in a conversation not online? What if they are different from how they’ve presented themselves? What if I’ve built a false picture in my head? The questions go on.

    But, to agree with your point, it IS sad that we can live next to people for years without sharing anything more than small talk.

  5. Re: Real-life friendships are backwards

    I’ve met several people IRL whom I met online.

    “several”…. (*counting*) ….

    Not counting Novell folk I first “met” in the course of business email, I’ve met over twenty people I was first introduced to online. Maybe 10 of those were people with whose online personas I was familiar with (Vornicus, Book, Pi, Raif, Karenin, Bemlet, Joseb, Heng…) Initial estimates were revised/adjusted in every single case, but overall it’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience.

    It’s not for the faint of heart, though. It’s like a combination of “Christmas” and “russian roulette.”


  6. Re: Real-life friendships are backwards

    Heh. ‘Russian roulette’ – I like that. Is that because people can seem nicer online than they do in real life, because of speech patterns and mannerisms, or because they could secretly be a crazed stalker type, just waiting for you to reveal yourself in real life to do something evil? 😀

    Either way, I’ve had similar experiences, though mostly ‘for the good’ in my case. Then again, I’m a little picky about who I do encounter in RL.

Comments are closed.