On Internet Communities and Social Interaction

Do you think being a well-known name on the internet helps you socially in everyday life? Here’s what I think – brace yourself for a long read. I’ll fix the long-ness of it on the fansite when I find out how to do a break.

As we take steps further into the future, we have to face the reality that the way we communicate is changing. Sure, those whose ages are hitting double-digits through those who have joined the workforce within the past five years or so are realizing how much the digital age is upon us. However, beyond that, there are MILLIONS of people that are still ignorant of how important of a role the world of cyberspace currently plays. For example, when I came back home from college for Thanksgiving, I was catching up with one of my uncles. Our conversation opened my eyes to those who are still accustomed to ways of old and are slowly making changes to today’s technologies.

“So what are you up to? What are you studying and what do you plan on doing with that degree?”
“Well, I’m a film student, and I’m really passionate about going into post-production – you know, editing, and all that. However, outside of class, I’ve been personally studying how cyber-media plays a role in today’s society.”
“Now, what do you mean by…cyber-media?”
“Hmm…here’s an example. See your DVR over there?”

Ignoring the fact that the Digital Video Recorder was at that point receiving digital input of the Detroit Lions laying an egg on Thanksgiving Day, it was an example that rung clearly with my uncle, who to his credit is an impeccably sharp man in his fifties. After he pointed out that there are times where it is very helpful to record your favorite shows and watch them later, I made the point that there are websites that put up television programs shortly after they air, essentially eliminating the need at times for a DVR or even television as we know it itself. People are getting their news through online sources such as blogs instead of picking up the paper or watching the local news program. There are vast communities such as Youtube, where videos of all kinds, some of those being television programs or films, are shared with others worldwide. On top of that, files are traded in peer-to-peer networks, so people can own copies (albeit illegal ones) of their favorite pieces of media. People of this generation cannot deny the impact these internet-driven phenomena have had on today’s society. That is the power of cyber-media. That is the power of the INTERNET and how it can change everything.

What role do I play in this, though? What role do YOU play in the power of the internet?

Chances are that if you are reading this, you likely have what is generally known as an “internet persona.” If people identify you through some internet moniker or nickname you have given yourself, as opposed to your given birth name, then you have an “internet persona.” This sense of who you are is defined and molded once you log in and participate socially in cyber-communities. It is what you have done online that either grants you a big, small, positive, or negative persona. Your persona is highly dependent on how others perceive you and this second personality does not necessarily reflect who you are outside of cyberspace. Interactions in the realm of the internet can certainly change lives however, whether for the best or worst. I am writing to attest how the internet community has altered my life and changed my social interactivity, whether I like it or not. Is it something I want to change or am I OK with being this persona in cyberspace? I guess I’ll have to keep writing to find out.

If you are reading this on my personal blog, then you likely know me by the name “Youko,” which, you guessed it, is my internet persona. Well, I’m known by either that or SMYNYouko, for things such as Xbox Live or Youtube. But let’s just go with Youko for right now. I’m not here to talk about what I’ve accomplished on the internet, what I have done to shape this online persona, or any of that. While I may mention things to prove my points, and it is possible that a future writing might involve “how to become a known figure on the internet,” that’s not what this entry here is about. And if you want to know when I’ll be releasing something, whether it’s a podcast or a video, again, this is not the kind of entry for that. But if you’re here for a critical look into how internet communities can shape social interactions, primarily how mine has been affected, then you’ve come to the right place. So sit down, grab a hot drink and get cozy. Looking at the snow outside gives me chills just looking at it.

All right, fine, I’ll do some brief self-plugging as a background. For the past year and a half, I’ve built this “internet persona” through a podcast called “Show Me Your News,” a video series called “WTF, Pokémon,” and being a moderator for Smashboards, the primary source regarding the competitive scene for Super Smash Bros. games. Now that that is over with, let the self-critiquing begin. I decided to get involved with the Smashboards community as an out from the anxiety/depression I was going through regarding a four-year relationship being grounded swiftly to a halt. Again, I won’t recap it, so go read it here if you care for the backstory. Since then, my life has been all about my studies, my friendships I’ve met through my studies, and the building and sustaining of this internet personality known as “Youko.” While I wonder every day how I will know when I’m ready to put myself back “out there on the market” in the real world because of that pain, there is a huge social wall that I seem to consistently run into.

I do not know how many of those reading this are in college, but let me spell something out that I’ve found to be quite clear. Other collegiate students can agree with me if they wish, but if there’s one thing I’ve discovered time and time again lately, it is this: The party scene is THE PRIMARY SOCIAL ATMOSPHERE in college. Now, I’ve been raised as a goody-goody all my life, and I’m proud of how my parents brought me up. Drinking has never been my thing and I have never had any alcohol, aside from communal wine at church. Because of this, I’ve always been taught to stay away from the party scene, and it’s just something I choose to do. There is nothing wrong with being clean and never trying any drugs, and in fact, I’ve been told by acquaintances online that they look up to “Youko” as a role model because of this. This is flattering and all, but I’ve been having doubts lately of how this clean lifestyle and this busy internet persona have affected me socially in college. Has it stunted my growth as a person, not being able to fully experience what it’s like to be a college student? Because I can tell you with 100% certainty that the “college films” portraying rampant drinking, sexual encounters, and the like have been the complete opposite of my “college experience.”

Look, I could defend the benefits of being well-versed on the internet, tooth and nail. Technology and cyberspace will be the way of the future, so how does it not help to stay up to date on digital information? To build a positive internet persona on an online community means you know how to politely deal with strangers and those that want to cause trouble. To produce media for an online community teaches you organization, fan management, product solicitation, and much more. Being in a position of power in a community teaches you how to be judicial, although I like to often say that it gives you a slight sense of cyber-masochism because of how much nonsense and torment you are consistently put through. All in all, having a strong online persona gives you confidence and improves your self-esteem because you are seen by people as a positive force in that community. However, what if it just doesn’t seem to make the transition to the real world?

I have found that even being at a college such as the University of Michigan, a school heralded for exceedingly bright minds, does not exempt you from typical social norms. Gamers and those astute with technology are on the outside looking in. Always. In online communities, we have unfortunately been made to believe that we are accepted in a social micro-chasm of what we perceive to be society, when it is in fact only others like ourselves. The unfortunate fact is that the majority of people, especially collegiate students, only see the internet as something that only centers on e-mail and Facebook. One is often ostracized for being involved in something so unique in cyberspace and it’s ironic for a guy’s perspective – women are naturally attracted to positions of power, but try telling her that you have a position of power on an internet forum. The subject matter forum is generally optional, but she likely will ask – but so help you if you say video games or anything that reflects the so-called “nerd culture.” It’s not something I’m not going to try and I wouldn’t suggest it on anyone. Or maybe it’s just that my position is so strange.

Most of us have our reasons for placing our roots in online communities and I see my path as one of social retreat. I retreated to Smashboards because I needed a place to find acceptance after life’s cruel ways regarding relationships decided to spurn me. I could have gone down an endless path of drugs and alcohol, but that goes completely against the way I was raised. It is this scruple that I’ve held onto so tightly that has repulsed me from the party scene in college, only leading me to yield to my internet persona even more. Moreover, I feel that the self-resistance when it comes to considering relationships again stems from the development of my online persona. Creating something in cyberspace and fostering its growth is VITALLY DEPENDENT on considering what others think of it. When you consistently try keeping fans happy of your work and who you are, an expression of your soul, an uncertainty grows regarding rejection. Transfer this rejection worry into everyday life and TA-DA, you have the reason why it is stereotypical for every man to be scared of putting himself out there and asking a woman out. I wish I could say that I was past all that after all that I learned from my previous relationship, but I sometimes wonder if building a positive internet persona has regressed who I am in some way.

I won’t say that everything that has come from being “Youko” online has been a failure. That would be ridiculous. I’ve learned a lot of skills that will help me in a professional life later down the road. I’ve made friends on the internet from all walks of life and locations. That alone has given me great perspective on how to deal with people and to learn how to listen to everything they have to say. If I were to put myself “back on the market,” if you will, I feel that I would have the confidence to feel good about myself. As one of my roommates told me, “you have to believe that they will be DAMN lucky to be with you.” If I already feel these things about myself, am I just borrowing this from my deeply-set internet persona, or is it something else? No, I’ve handled a relationship before; I know what it takes to sustain something like that, maybe even more so than most people. Maybe the problem is not just how my personality in cyberspace has been formed, perhaps it lies in the constructs of society as well. Perhaps it lies in what is expected socially of the typical college student.

I should really wrap things up before this becomes overtly long-winded. To those of you that have relationships in high school, do not EVER take them for granted. If you are going to different schools at the end of your high school career, you better brace yourself for the possibility of that relationship ending. I wouldn’t recommend a long-distance relationship to anyone, from personal experience, and if you’re maintaining one at the moment, you are a stronger and luckier person than I ever will be. I don’t think I’ll even consider a long-distance relationship again with the way I’ve been hurt. If you’re in a relationship past your high school career…I could say so many things, but I think it’s all been said? I know some of you who are married and say that you just have to wait for the person who’s meant for you. I think I’m just at an impasse regarding how I go about finding those TYPES of people.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read): You are hindered socially in college if you do not yield to the party scene, making things rather frustrating. Building an “internet persona” can help you in many ways, but one should be wary of how much they put into building and maintaining one. Maintaining a positive identity in an online community is dependent on having others perceive you in a positive light. If this worry about what others think about you transfers, you could be in a compromising position.

I have to find out how to feel good about myself socially this break before the semester starts up again. So help me. And fuck you, parties. Any feedback or suggestions are welcome.