Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Online Us and What We Are in Reality - Schizophrenic?

A friend sometime ago said that online forums, social networking sites, chat rooms, shorn of frills, devoid of pretensions and minus the desperate pick-up lines resemble real life flesh and blood social interaction. Yes it does. Is it a good thing, or a bad thing? I don’t know. My meagre interactions online since 1995 (that’s from the doggone days of slow dial-up lines) tells me that people tend to trust too much what their online friends tell them.

So what happens next? You set up a meeting with great expectations. And then? All those expectations come crashing down. We are a bit schizophrenic about our image of ourselves. For example: I have this rather youngish, dashing image of me, which I also pretend to be online, which collapses when I meet an online friend and all my dreams go for a toss seeing the disappointment in their eyes. What did you expect? John Abraham? Guys, I am John P Matthew , a struggling writer and I am only human! Meaning: I have a right to have my own disillusionments. I have got pretty much disillusioned myself. Is this the one with whom I had exchanged long emails thinking this is a friendship that would last? No, I am not looking (Yes, however, I am looking for story situations and experiences that would trigger a short story or a poem, at the very least), but what's wrong with meeting a fellow netizen from another city, another country and trying to understand what's going through their life? But this is not what I had imagined! At least I thought she would wear presentable clothes and pat on a little face powder to hide that shiny nose.

Agreed. We all lie a little about ourselves. When we are online we hide all our little foibles and character quirks. This morning I saw “Bringing the House Down” as I was getting ready to go to work (Yes, I confess I do this. It’s another matter that the movie viewing came to a sudden halt when the electric supply blinked, then vamoosed!). In it, Steve Martin, a lawyer, lies about his looks (boyish crop of hair, mid-thirties, and all) to his online friend “Lawyergirl” and sets up a meeting with her, who is supposed to be a smart lawyer. Imagine who walks in at the appointed hour?


And look who turned up at the door at the appointed hour? She is an ex-convict, a convicted felon, is loud, uncouth and is also African-American (a role played to perfection by Queen Latifah)! Can you beat that? It transpires that when chatting with Steve Martin she used a few legal terms she knew because of her ex-convict status. No doubt our hero was floored and started fantasising about her as all men do. We all do that online, don't we?

The way the youth is taking to the internet we (I mean the more mature generation, not that they would listen to us!) have to be very careful about how we project ourselves online. Nothing can substitute our real personalities for some imagined creature online. When we are online we must remember that we are on display to the world, it's as if we are on television. We must be ready for the insults and the badmouthing we, inevitably, must receive at some point in our online avatar. But dammit, whoever said the net is the answer to all our social problems, eh? No it isn't, and anyone thinking they can land their beautiful friends/wives/husbands online are in for a big, solid surprise.

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