Some of the people she and I talked to included clergy who held services on social media and virtual environment platforms pre-COVID, members of defunct online theatre games groups, and a theatre company that used avatars (!) and teachers who worked in online/virtual classrooms before the pandemic made this a necessity.
We talked about how our own lives had changed since being online for the past three decades made it almost too easy for shy folks and introverts to essentially hide. Yes, there was no small amount of self-assessment going on. There are probably a lot of people in our field who would prefer to not acknowledge that, but it happens.
There's no argument we can't have life as we knew it before the pandemic, at least for the time being. Things are changing. At some point in the near future I am going to be able to go out in the world again. So are a lot of other people who are clinging to some semblance of feeling like they're part of the human race by means of social media.
One priest who has worked with us quit doing virtual services because he felt it was at some level still playacting. The larger the groups got, the more it seemed like he was getting more expected responses than actual inquiry.
This hit home.
Another thing he brought up was the idea that more of us seem to be converging into groups of monologists and those who made up their audience. He told us his friends list had grown from a little over eighty people to just south of a thousand.
Another thing he shared was a conversation he had with his wife. She asked him how many on that list were people he could comfortably approach just to talk, to seek comfort from if they needed to do so, were people he felt comfortable about calling.
F. and I agreed it was a pretty brave line of inquiry and one that might lead to some uncomfortable answers. It is one I will be asking myself in the week ahead.
Years ago I sent a friend request to someone I had interacted with on a message board in the past. Her response was something to the effect that I was nuts if I thought she would want to be friends with me. For a long time, it made me very cautious about sending and accepting requests. Although I have to admit the "lonely guys just looking for love in all the wrong places" are still fun to mess with! I haven't had one in a while. They keep running away when I mention the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Internet Fraud Division. Pleh. Killjoys.
F. and I were very honest with each other about how easy it has gotten to hide from the world. Kind if silly, really. After all, we're both part of the proud, the nearly unemployable, the ones with at best marginally marketable skills, the people with anthropology degrees.
Here are some of the thoughts we have about online "life."
1.) If people aren't responding to you, you're not in the right place.
2.) Assess your expectations. If you're getting what you need in the way of information in a passive environment, ie. online lectures, that's great. Keep it up. If anything, this experience should have given a lot of us the chance to broaden our knowledge base.
3.) The following things might be a stopgap, but without inclusion and direct participation, they are pale imitations of the real thing. Moreover, they might actually exacerbate depressive tendencies. I'm thinking of: online religious observance, some kinds of creative collective groups, support groups... All of these are more dependent on the shared energy of people being with us than we realize until we lose that particular attribute. F. adds classroom dynamics have drastically changed as well. She says the whole concept of pedagogical presence has changed.
Does this mean people should do away with ALL online interaction because in-person is better? No. We all have those Cheers-like places where you log in and everybody yells, "NORM!" If you don't reach a point where you feel like you may have found your people, why are you there?
I used to chalk these sorts of questions up to being spectrum-y and overthinking everything. Then F. started asking her students questions about this and asked me to work with her. From what we've asked people about life online before and life online after, it seem a lot of people are either settling in or asking if they are seeking friendship or accepting something that is actually very different.
There's so much I miss. I think other people miss these things, too. What worries me is if I get too comfortable accepting little or no interaction, it's going to make it harder to engage when the pandemic is under control.