I had a writing assignment for school recently that, while it may not seem like something that is intended for a Thanksgiving post, I think you’ll see its relevance. Thank you all for being the best friends I could ask for, even if some of you are geographically so far away.
Source: Baym, Nancy. Personal Connections in the Digital Age. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2010.
Moral panics exist about technology for a reason. These fears about how the latest communication methods will ruin the youth of the nation are typically conjectured by those who have very little experience with the technology. When this is studied further, new experiences help shape new opinions which may eventually become the norm over time. Internet communication is currently perceived as being dangerous because of its potential for diminishing social skills, increasing addiction, and separating parental control. However, the biggest moral panic still lies in the possible dishonesty that has occurred online, especially when trying to meet new friends. As Nancy Baym found out, however, “reduced social cues make it easier to lie, but separation, time lags, and sparse cues also remove social pressures that make lying seem like a good idea” (2010, p. 116). My own personal experiences validate this, as the friendships I’ve made online have been based on mutual interests and have led to in-person meet-ups.
Over the past several years, I have been involved in producing several online projects, giving off a “my life is an open book” mentality that is true to my actual personality. As a result, I have made a point not to hide behind some sort of “wall of production,” so I make myself very open to fan interaction and communication. This kind of openness has a great deal of production benefits, as I get to learn how to improve what I am working on through honest fan feedback. Meanwhile, the fans feel a greater sense of loyalty to a show whose host does production differently than most. With the progression of time, though, the acquaintances have grown into actual friendships that I hold very dearly. Some of these friends live in Michigan, Utah, Kentucky, and many other states, but thinking about the United States would be too limited of a scope. These interpersonal bonds stretch to a worldwide scale due to the very nature of the Internet, which is special compared to the traditional sense of friendship circles. I have made very dear friends from England, had conversations with folks from Australia, and my go-to colleague for graphic design help lives in Croatia. These are experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything and they help illustrate what makes online communication so unique and special.
Baym also suggests that people “may manipulate their self-presentations strategically and, at times, not entirely honestly” (2010, p. 121). This makes me consider the situation in which people may bend this honesty. Fears of predator stories are warranted, but are mostly the result of twisted individuals using the technology to their own means, instead of what the technology naturally allows these people to do. In my experiences, however, most friendships that originate online are the result of communities that are formed based off of a particular interest. I met these close friends of mine because of the passion we all share for video games and my podcast was what brought them all together. We get together often on Skype for group chats and occasionally conference calls, but we do so to communicate with those that would not be able to meet without the Internet. For the past couple years even, those that have been able to travel out to Detroit meet up with me at an anime convention that takes place in early November. When it comes to these kinds of in-person meetings, thoughts about honesty and dishonesty have been forgotten long ago. Meeting people online in these interest-based situations can lead to important interpersonal relationships, as long as you keep an open mind about it. Long story short, the key is to not morally panic about it.