Does Social Media Connect or Distance a Gradually Disconnected Culture?

If you’ve read my first book, or heard me speak at a local event here in Bozeman, or read my occasional blog rants, or magazine articles about how poorly supported this generation of young parents are in our fast-paced culture, then you won’t be surprised by the contents of this post:

Last night, PBS aired a program about Second Life; the virtual world that, apparently, millions of people around the real world participate in. Created by Linden Lab, this virtual world called “The Grid” by its’ members, is supposedly a place where you can “go” to meet other people, socialize, do business, attend distanced learning college classes, and live out your wildest (or maybe not so wild) fantasies. You can fly for crying out loud! I mean, who wouldn’t want to be able to do that?

When a person (a real, live, growing, eating, breathing person) joins Second Life, they create an avitar for themself that may resemble their true self, may look like a “new and improved” version of their true self (think big muscles, big breasts, more or better hair…you get the picture) or may look nothing like their true self. (Apparently, it is common for people to choose a “furry” avatar…some animal figure in clothes, or maybe even a robot.)

During PBS’ show, several Second Life participants were interviewed…all raving about the “experience” they have had helping to create this on-line universe. One woman, her avatar apparently being “the most famous” character in this pixelated world, boasts about the business she runs through Second Life–a virtual fashion design boutique through which she sells custom-made clothing to other people’s avatars. And yes, she receives real U.S. dollars for this.

You see, here’s the catch. Second Life has some sort of system through which players pay real money to participate…to “buy land” where they can build whatever the hell they want…and even buy clothes for their avatars. And, at some point, you can “cash in” your money…and receive real U.S. dollars ( I assume the check comes from Linden Lab).

If you’re a little slow on the uptake, let me spell it out loud and clear for you:

PEOPLE ARE ENTERING THEIR CREDIT CARD NUMBERS INTO THEIR COMPUTERS SO THEIR CARTOON CHARACTER SELVES CAN WEAR CLOTHES, DRIVE CARS, LIVE IN HOUSES, ETC. AS IF WE AREN’T OVER SPENDING IN REAL LIFE…NOW WE CAN SPEND EVEN MORE MONEY IN A SECOND LIFE AS WELL!

The woman who runs the fashion boutique in Second Life? The Lindens (the term for SL money) she “earns” translates into upwards of $3,000 USD/month at the time of filming the program.

Now, before you get all hot & bothered to join SL and start your own virtual business, may I step in as the voice of reason and suggest a few things?

1. THIS IS THE MOST IDIOTIC THING I HAVE EVER HEARD OF

2. In the name of “social interaction” people are spending what I presume to be HOURS in front of their computer screens…ALONE…pretending to interact with other folks.

3. Because of the anonymity of SL (from what I understand, rarely do the people behind the avatars of SL reveal their true selves to each other) strange things can potentially happen in this shrouded Internet world. I have to wonder, what types of behaviors are displayed within the confines of SL that would be considered culturally inappropriate in the real world? What is so wrong with these people that they have to hide behind a cartoon character in order to gain a little “social interaction?” And how can this form of “social interaction” replace, or even come close to satisfying the germaine need for human interaction that sets us apart from many creatures of the animal world?

To me, this is down-right scary: that people would invest hundreds of hours of their time, and who-knows how many hundreds of dollars, to participate in a pretend world.

In case you didn’t notice people, THERE’S AN AWFULLY BIG WORLD ALL AROUND YOU WITH A LOT OF real PEOPLE IN IT THAT YOU CAN INTERACT WITH!

And to the woman who earns thousands of dollars a month selling virtual clothing to other people’s virtual selves, I say: more power to you (I guess). You’re earning money off of other people who are stupid enough to pay you for the pretend clothing you apparently don’t have the courage (or whatever) enough to make in the REAL WORLD.

Lastly, and before my hands go numb, I must propose this:

Our westernized culture is becoming more and more disconnected all the time. People have their noses wedged so deep into their Blackberry’s, laptop computers (me being one of them), iPhones and the like…that they are forgetting how important face-to-face human interaction is. And quiet space, for that matter.

Are we really becoming a generation that doesn’t know how to unplug? Have we lost the ability to go to a park, sit in the grass, watch the wind blow through the trees and just be satisfied? Have we forgotten the lovely Serotonin rush that happens after a really good, heartfelt coffee date with a friend?

How do you nurture another person in Second Life? How do you give someone a hug that feels like a hug? How do you take joy in the sound of a friend’s laughter in a virtual world?

My God, what has this world (this real world) come to that people are feeling the need to escape into a make-believe world for “social interaction?”

Here’s a KQUED segment on Second Life that will give you, if you don’t already know about this stuff, a little glimpse:

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Does Social Media Connect or Distance a Gradually Disconnected Culture?

  1. Are we connected or socially disconnected…
    I personally believe that technology has reduced our social capital—the relationships that bind people together and create a sense of community. Consequences include decreased civility, loss of behavioural boundaries and increased crime. We must find ways to deal with our profound loss of social connectedness.
    Even though technological advances have contributed significantly to the problem of isolation, the emphasis on individualism in today’s society has compounded it.

  2. Shelly

    Some people may also think spending hours on a computer writing a book is crazy? One of your previous posts: “I’ve been slaving over to the point my husband may very well think I’ve divorced him and married my laptop.”
    Is this healthy family interaction? Does it make you $3,000 per month? I would love to get paid for my hours on the computer. Where do I sign up!

  3. Pingback: Electronic Arcadia « Second Life Shrink

  4. Electronic Arcadia,

    While I may be opening up a MUCH larger can of worms than I can respond to…you may want to resubmit your comment as only part of it (I think) came through. While your opinion may differ than mine, I still value what you have to say…

  5. Shelly,

    Yep. You’re right. It certainly could be construed that spending hours on my computer (late at night when everyone else in my house is asleep or on an early Saturday morning when my husband is enjoying time with the kids he otherwise doesn’t get to spend during the work week) writing books is crazy and a poor example of family time.

    I suppose I can feel ok about it because:
    1) I DO make sure my “work time” tends to occur outside of our family time, and
    2) I AM interacting with the real world around me when I participate in speaking events that springboard from my writing, as well as the interactions I have with women who have read my current book and start a conversation with me about how the book helped them…how it made them feel less alone in their early journey through motherhood, etc.

  6. Shelly

    Oh I wasn’t saying what you do is wrong, just pointing out that perhaps you were a little hard on the people who play that game. Maybe they play the game when the family is asleep or when it doesn’t intrude on family activities. I was just saying we are all spending too much time on computers including you. So lets not jump on the game players! In fact these blogs are mostly (not just yours so don’t get offended) a waste of time. I challenge everyone here to take a week off. Don’t read… Don’t Post. Just like the military 🙂

  7. Shelly,

    I think you make a series of excellent points here.
    And believe me, I get sick of my own computer screen as well! 😉 It drives my husband crazy how ineptly I attend to my email Inbox…forgetting to answer emails sometimes…missing “important ones” too, etc.

    I read an article once, written by Katie Goodman, which appeared in Oprah’s ‘O’ magazine in which she challenged folks to take a week off from email. It really is quite liberating. I can go a couple days now w/o turning on my Inbox and I am quite positive that my world will not come crashing down around me. Even though much of the work I do, outside of my primary job of caring for your children, is through my computer (writing/editing books, developing class curriculum for my childbirth prep. program) it is my work that takes me to the keyboard…not leisure.

    For me, my blog serves a couple purposes: as a writer, it keeps me writing–not unlike sitting down for ten minutes a day and to free write with actual pen and paper. As a writer, there is an innate need to just WRITE. No matter what comes out, sometimes the process of just writing is enough to keep the wheels constantly turning. This would be equivalent to a pro tennis player spending a certain amount of time each day on the court or a pro golfer devoting significant time to practicing his/her swing.

    Blogging also serves as a form of promotion of my published work. Having chosen to self publish my first book (a choice I will not make for my second) I don’t have a paid PR team working behind the scenes to promote me as a woman who writes about childbirth, motherhood and relatable cultural issues. My status as an “expert” in these areas will spread through viral means…largely by my own doing. The end point, of course, is to ultimately get myself, or my product (my writing) in front of real people. And the more real people who read my work, the more real people I have the potential to interact with through guest speaking engagements, emails/telephone/personal conversations, etc. (Yep, there it is again: the dreaded email thing!)

    But yes, for folks who are into virtual gaming…should they choose to play their chosen game late at night…or I suppose any old time…it’s certainly their perogoitive. And while I came across extremely critical of games like Second Life in my initial post, the tone of my comments were largely based on how hard it would be for me to imagine participating in that type of activity…in lieu of how hard it was for me, as a young mom, to feel so isolated when my children were even younger than they are now. Having been surrounded by a world full of people and very much in need of the support my own family/in-law family was too far away (or too busy) to provide me…I couldn’t imagine other people purposely choosing a form of “social interaction” that was/is, in reality, extremely isolating.

    Different strokes for different folks, I guess. But for me, the strokes that involve real live, face-to-face human interaction is where it’s at.

  8. Bokiki

    IDK WHAT YOU PPL ARE TALKING ABOUT! maybe if u were more interesting i’d read your worthless crap. SO GO GET INTERESTING!!!

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