Thursday, December 02, 2004

Digital Life

Wired News has a short piece on Mary Hodder, an internet consultant who lives much of her life online via blogs, email, IM, etc. This touches on issues that have been on my mind lately. At this particular moment in my life, many of my social and professional relationships are carried out over the internet. I recently finished grad school, and many of my good friends left town to pursue careers. I'm pursuing mine here in Pittsburgh. Friends from high school in Maine and college in Philadelphia have scattered across the world. My family remains in Maine with the exception of my brothers who are both now in the Chicago area. I keep in touch with all of these people mostly via email and IM, occasionally picking up the phone for a voice-to-voice conversation, and sometime even getting on a plane for a visit.

Lately, my Xbox has been facilitating a new kind of keeping in touch: the online deathmatch. So far, only a couple of friends are using Xbox Live, but shooting the breeze over the included voice communication system while killing each other (or other players) in Halo 2 arenas has the easy familiarity of sitting around in somebody's living room or dorm room with an Xbox and the original Halo. It's a pretty compelling application of entertainment and network technology.

That said, I'm starting to wonder if my face-to-face social life is suffering as a result of my ability to maintain relationships online. I have a few friends here in Pittsburgh but little incentive to go out and make new ones. Am I becoming a hermit? Am I forsaking the comforts of spatially close friends for this more distributed relationship network? Fortunately, I don't think so. I'm actually quite happy with things the way they are. For now. Eventually, I will want to settle down, surrounded by friends and family, but for the time being, with my career in flux and with no guarantee that I'll be somewhere for any length of time, I'm happy to stay in touch with people via email, IM, phone, Xbox Live, and so on.

In addition, tools such as Friendster are helping me resurrect old friendships, maintaining connections that I would otherwise have let drop. Space is, in many ways, less of an object. Location factors less into my relationships.

One final question: Am I changing (evolving/devolving) as a social being? Am I unconsciously learning to interact with friends and family in fundamentally different ways? Is this process detrimental to my ability to interact with people face-to-face?


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