Faceless names…REALLY???

pittsburgh 7

By Kenneth Justice

There’s just something indescribable about sitting across from someone; something you can’t recreate via a letter or the Internet” he said

~ I was sitting at coffee yesterday with a good friend of mine who was asking me about my recent Coffee House trip to Pittsburgh, “What stands out the most to you about each of your trips so far” he asked

And as I thought about his question I realized that hands down it has to be the people; “Sure it’s been fun seeing different cities each weekend, but its meeting fellow bloggers, readers, and the random strangers I encounter on each of my trips that is standing out to me the most” I said

All week long I’ve been writing on different themes connected to Western Culture and community. The bottom-line is that whether we like it or not; the Internet exists as a major source of community for millions of people throughout the Western World. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other Websites have become an integral component in the way we connect with friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, and everyone else in-between.

And while I appreciate the positive aspects of the Internet (without it you wouldn’t be reading this article) my coffee house trips each weekend have been a unique opportunity for me to meet with people face-to-face and in many cases it has been a way for me to put a ‘face’ to names I see on my screen each morning as I read the comments to my articles.

As my friend said yesterday, “There’s just something indescribable about sitting across from someone; something you can’t recreate via a letter or the Internet”. Meeting people in ‘real life’ at coffee houses has been an opportunity for me to see friendships develop into deeper connections than before, when I only knew people via our Internet connection.

The interaction I’ve had with a number of fellow bloggers post-meeting them in real life has been pretty dramatic; people who I considered ‘close acquaintances’ via our Internet connection….I now consider to be my ‘friends’ thanks to our real-life meetings.

All this brings me to a simple truth; as much as I am thankful for what the Internet has enabled us to do, it will never replace true face-to-face relationships.

—-) Internet dating will never be as thrilling as a real-life date

—-) Facebook friendships will never be as emotionally fulfilling as a real life friends whom we sit together with at coffee

—-) Cyber-sex will never be as good as the real thing

The most notable difference between our Internet persona’s and who we really are is that the Internet simply can’t recreate the indescribable (almost pseudo-spiritual) experience of being next to each other in person. The language I use in my writing for instance is often a tad bit different than the way I speak in real life.

And yet, even though nothing I’m saying is all that remarkable…..every day children and teens across the Western World become more and more dependent on the Internet and social networks than the previous generations before them.

Despite the fact that we all know how important it is for us to have good interpersonal skills and connections with each other in real life; young men and women are increasingly becoming entirely dependent on the Internet to facilitate their connections.

A 30-something reader of mine in Pittsburgh, who asked that I not mention their name publicly, admitted to me that without the Internet they have no clue how to meet someone in order to date,

If it wasn’t for the Internet I wouldn’t even know where to meet a woman or how to ask her out. Every date that I’ve ever been on has been through Internet dating sites” he said

So in this man’s life; the Internet has been a positive force in his life in helping him to develop connections with women. But is that a total net positive or net negative? Has the Internet created a generation of men who don’t know how to strike up an intelligent conversation with a woman at a coffee shop or in a public place? Is the Internet literally destroying the art of unrehearsed conversations and unrehearsed connections that occur in everyday situations?

As with most topics related to Western Culture I’m left with more questions than answers. Yet ultimately, I am thankful for this opportunity to travel throughout the year meeting with as many of you as possible!

If you live in the Philadelphia area and are interested in sharing a cup of coffee and conversation about life, culture, art, or whatever happens to be on your mind I will be arriving this weekend, it would be great to meet you.



Categories: Culture & Society

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

30 replies

  1. “Cyber-sex will be as good as the real thing” – that is the most gorgeous typo I have ever seen! 🙂

    An interesting theme coming out of today’s post (if I read you correctly): the internet acts a lot of the time as an introduction to face-face socialising. Certainly I see that in the young here. They text before, during and after (just like cyber sex – obviously!). And our daughter can text and talk at the same time (and remember what was said the following day).

    My thoughts are this: there is a generation for whom the internet is “replacing” socialising, and there is a generation for whom the internet is “adding” to socialising. Me? First category! 🙂

    • That’s what I get for writing that article at 10 pm and forgetting to proof it!!! Ha ha typo corrected.

      And I totally agree with both of your observations; spot on Paul

  2. An interesting perspective towards the end, and i think there are lots of variables that go into play when it comes to dating, meeting people, etc. Lately talking to my single friends, coworkers, etc. one trend on the somewhat downward side is getting away from the bar scene. However, in many cases (also dependent on the area you live in) is what public situations actually arise to meet potential partners. Another factor is individual personalities. In some cases, certain people are so entrenched in work, school, etc. that when it comes to the social side of things, they don’t know where to really start. In this regard, I think such websites are a good thing. In some ways it is also good to get to know someone before really “going out” on a date- from the perspective of potential compatability/chemistry as well as being a tad less awkward as you already know things about each other and things to talk about.

    On another point from your passage, I never really gave much thought for facebook as making “new” friends, but more of staying connected to people I already know that may have moved due to work, school, etc. I have come to use it as a learning tool, i.e. joining various groups pertaining to cooking, photography, etc. so I have formed some more informal bonds with people within those groups. There is still nothing like actually going out with friends and having that social interaction.

    • Chad, when I was younger I don’t remember the bars playing the music SO loud….I swear, it seems like in the past few years they’ve cranked up the music at bars so you can’t even hear yourself think, let alone have a conversation with someone…… my theory is that if you talk less you will drink more and the bar will make more money……. so I wonder if that is one element of why people are slowly getting away from the bar scene and looking for different venues to connect with each other.

  3. Our lives are very distracting. I had a friend come to visit Monday that had a suicidal uncle he is very close to. He could not concentrate for one moment on talking to me. Poor guy. Almost all my friends are like that now in face to face. They are nervous, answering the phone, juggling all kinds of life crisis. I honestly can not remember the last person I have sat down with that could give our time together the attention I was expecting. Learning to sit with someone and listen actively and offer true empathy I would say has always been difficult for many people. I am so aware of it’s importance that I have trained my ears to hear and I do not fix. I want to know how it makes them feel.

    • Ellen, why is this??? As I read your comment it totally resonated with so many experiences I have with people; tons of people are experiencing crises…… its so true. But why? Yesterday a friend called met that I haven’t talked to in a long time and our conversation was SO pleasant… it was just a generally nice laid back ‘how are you doing’ kind of conversation…. but then I guess I made the mistake of asking them about their significant other, and the conversation sort of ended at that point; it was like they couldn’t’ talk about their significant other without dealing with thoughts and issues they didn’t want to face; as though the only way they could talk about that was in a dramatic/intense manner… it ended weirdly to say the least.

  4. I know that my comment does not talk about the effects of the Internet and other non face to face communication. I do suspect that people having problems are afraid they will “look” bad telling someone face to face. The Facebook page is a way to make it all seem like everything is ok. Face to face is hard to hide.

  5. My son, 15 right now, prefers real life. Don’t get me wrong, he mentioned the other day that his generation is changing things (for example, we are about to drop cable and go to pure internet TV) but given the option, he will call customer support instead of going on line. He will have me take him to the store instead of buying on line. He does use Twitter, tho!
    So, while the internet has taken away some interactions, all hope is not lost! There are those of us fossils that still enjoy the people to people experience!

  6. I’ve found that in virtual relationships it is easier for people to portray who they want to be. In person the reality is often a bit different. When we spend time with a person in real life, we get to know who they truly are. Actions speak louder than words, etc. etc.

  7. I think we all need to take a good hard look at our lives and the lives of our children. We do not have to allow technology to control us. However, we must admit that it will be a part of our everyday lives. I am grateful for the time I spend away from technology each week on my technology sabbath. It recharges me. I feel so much calmer. All of my conversations are face-to-face. I believe that it sets a good example for my kids. At least, I hope so!

  8. Good post! The internet is certainly changing us. I guess one of the positives, when it comes to interpersonal relationships between men and women, is that we’re getting to know each other better. We’re all very brave hiding behind our keyboards anonymously, and tend to say things on the internet that we might not say face to face. Men don’t always talk publically about how they feel about women, not to women anyway, but they do on the internet. In real life we tend to be more cautious, to use more social niceties with each other, but sometimes the internet allows for more honest communication.

  9. I really like where you took this post towards the end. I can’t tell you how much it saddens me seeing so many people with their heads down and their mind engaged in the things they see on their cell phone screen. And while I think that there are both positive and negative aspects to online dating, I do think that there are more negatives, such as the one you mentioned, not being able to have the one on one communication skills that they need. I met my fiance on a dating website but we both set up the site because our friends made us and made a joke of it, not expecting anything to come of it, and not because we didn’t feel like we could have success meeting people in person for the frst time.

  10. I think the appeal of the Internet is the safety. People can’t kill you for saying something they do not like. People say things online that they would not say in public.

    Though in my case, I am just as open in person as online.

    • Also, if you initiate conversation with a stranger online, there’s much less risk that they’ll freak out, call the police, and have you chained up naked in a jail cell with a group of violent criminals over a long weekend, then banned for life from your home town, than there is if you try to interact with strangers in meatspace. There are a lot of paranoids out there, and they can be dangerous.

    • This is very true. That is one reason I do my activism online.

  11. People are getting hooked on technology. Whenever I’m using public transport, I usually read a book to kill time. I’m pretty much the only one. I’d reckon about 90% of my fellow passengers are using their phones to check FB/Twitter/whatever. Very little conversation taking place.

  12. Good post Kenneth….as usual!

    You bring up some good points, points that are lost to those who only see one side of the coin. While a good chunk of real life community has been lost to the internet, you reminded me of some of the great benefits of being connected on-line. A friend of mine who has been house bound for many years finds her community on the net. She never gets out, and she’s not the most sociable person you will ever meet, but she does have a lot of friends from all over the world…its a life line for her.

    I guess its like I read somewhere (probably on-line), “everything is good in moderation.”

    errrr…not sure “everything” applies to cyber-sex?

    ~ Dave

  13. I have to admit the internet is my social life (as I live a very solitary life in reality). Chronic Fatigue and Pain make socialising in reality exhausting and I’m always a wee bit embarrassed about my intermittent poor memory, reduced circumstances and disinterest in local current affairs. There are many of us ICI (Invisible Chronic Illness) sufferers who can both engage and ‘talk’ in short bursts with a great degree of comfort and/or skill on the internet.

    I have no doubt the internet is (literally) a lifesaver for the housebound and/or bedridden.

    I really miss the nuances to be found in facial expressions, voice tone and simple hand gestures though. I’ve landed myself in more than one ‘falling out’ due to misinterpretation of the written word. I state a simple observation of fact and friends/family interpret it as a criticism!

    • The Internet has been a great leveler for many groups of people. The Blind and Deaf/Blind have had an entirely new world opened to them because it is difficult for them to get out and around. Likewise, it is a godsend for the housebound and individuals like yourself with various incapacities. As a Hard of Hearing person it is likewise a leveler for me as I can understand the people I speak with.

      You are correct when you talk about a simple observation being mistaken as an opportunity to get offended. I use lot of emoticons and qualifiers if I think there is the possibility of being mistaken. That being said, I can’t necessarily hear a tone of voice, either so I’m also hobbled in conversations with non-signers.

  14. Admittedly, the internet has opened up a world that has created a new type of present and future. We’re now able to contact like-minded people in a way that meant moving a long way from home for some people in the past. That’s a real positive.

    But catching up with the past, by internet, has turned out to be a negative experience for me too many times.

    When our experiences were more or less the same, my old friends and I had similar views, but the different experiences separation brings, over long periods of time, can evolve us into quite different beings.

    Interesting though old reminisces can be at the beginning, with the first renewal of contact, when we try to avoid subjects that might be controversial, sooner or later the sensitive parts are reached.

    I’ve now learned that too many people I knew as teenagers have morphed into people, who remind me of my dad, or our nosey neighbours, so I’ve become more cautious about renewing old friendships.

    The anonimity the internet can bring to those who choose it is a different subject completely. It’s something I’m not so happy about, as it reveals a vast subterranean ocean of supressed emotions that free expression exposes, but does not necessarliy relieve.

  15. i agree … we are material, bodily beings and we need that in-person connection to fully experience connection and relationship. and we’re ‘human beings’, not ‘human doings’ … when we’re on the internet we are doing interaction with people, but face-to-face we are being with them 🙂

  16. You speak a “tad” differently huh? Hmm… lol. I know better lol. Second – Internet dating is meant only to meet online – the actual dates are supposed to be offline, or at least I should hope so or that’s some really lame dates. But really, I agree. I love the Internet for a lot of things but I too worry that it’s killing good social skills. People have lost their filters for their mouths and they don’t seem to understand how destructive the Internet can be also (i.e. Stubenville, etc.). I keep hoping my editor is correct that a lot of this is simply growing pains of learning about this tool and as we figure it all out, it will get better. I can only hope as I get so tired of seeing people absolutely glued to their phones and various computing devices. I also totally agree that there isn’t anything comparable to face to face connection. You can learn a lot about a person online, but in person, you can read that person’s body language, get a feel for if he or she really does respond well to something you’ve said or doesn’t, etc. That is slightly improved if you have FaceTime or Skype or something so you can see each other but again, because there’s technological limitations, that’s just not the same either. I hope you enjoy Philly, the city of Brotherly Love! 🙂

  17. As a member of an online community we joke, laugh, agree or disagree on a topic and we make friendships or enemies, we gossip…. We spend a lot of time online and there comes the wonder: what do entertain us more? A bunch of online and interesting people or a movie, a book, fresh air? It is hard to admit which one capture us these days…

  18. Most of my life was Pre-Internet. I think I’ve done well making the transition to new ways of meeting and interacting with people. As in my P-I life, people I meet are still very much the same. Just because we have new ways to connect doesn’t mean our basic natures are any different. Most of us are sociable and willing to reach out.

  19. I love this!
    “Despite the fact that we all know how important it is for us to have good interpersonal skills and connections with each other in real life; young men and women are increasingly becoming entirely dependent on the Internet to facilitate their connections.”
    it is so important to take the time to teach our children how to look somebody in the eye, shake their hand and say nice to meet you.

  20. Yep you gotta love the internet world for all its advantages and disadvantages.vw

  21. As an early adopter of online sociality who has significant experience in that realm, I’m not sure that I agree about the online exchanges described not being as good as real life. I would suggest that they are simply different experiences that involve different factors.

  22. I feel sad that your 30-something reader from Pittsburgh didn’t have family (sisters) or friends who could introduce him to women he might find interesting. It use to be proximity, living, working, or studying near someone, was a key factor in the origin of relationships. You found meeting people on your tour created a deeper connection. Maybe we were meant to see, hear, and experience each other in real life. . .REALLY???

  23. I completely agree with all of your comments about internet vs the real thing.

    “The most notable difference between our Internet persona’s and who we really are is that the Internet simply can’t recreate the indescribable (almost pseudo-spiritual) experience of being next to each other in person.”

    Absolutely the case in which I finally met my (now) husband for the first time, even though we had been corresponding for several months on-line. And even more so in meeting my two year old grandson, despite being connected via Skype for two years.

    But, I see the internet as a tool to accomplish the latter…in real life experience. Imagine how different it would have been to meet my grandson for the first time without the two years of Skype, giving us a chance to get to know each other.

    I also feel that their is greater opportunity to be more honest with others if one starts on-line relationships…either friendships or otherwise. Sure, there will be pretenders but those types are out there…even in the real world. It is my experience that people reveal a lot more about themselves online than they would in person…making it easier to see whether their is a compatibility or connection.

    As long as the internet is used as a tool and not as a replacement, it is an asset to society.

  24. I imagine half a year from now, you will be writing about all these acquaintances-become-friends and wondering about the next time you’ll see them. You’ll have to host a Culture Monk con or something.

    Joking aside, it really is hard. I now have friends all over the nation and country. It’s hard to find the time or money to travel and see them face to face. I haven’t seen some of them in years. For those kinds of friendships, the internet is wonderful.

%d bloggers like this: