So one of my personal life-goals in the last few years has been to work on becoming a better incarnation of myself. To decide how I want to live my life, both for myself and as a member of communities. To spend time around people who are fundamentally generous AND intellectually rigorous. And by that I mean, people who question their roles in the world, how they are participants of oppressive systems at all times, and how love and liberation have to go hand-in-hand. (I know that’s all cheesy and oh-so-Obie of me, but that’s how I see it.) Most of my amig@s are these things and they are great mentors (in the collective sense, ya know?).
And lately I’ve been wondering about the role of technology in the building of communities, part of which, of course, is the formation of relationships. Not to get all Appadurai-theoretical on my own ass, but seriously. In the last few years I have joined email listserves that are supposed to aid in the creation of diasporic communities. I created a friendster profile to keep connected to old friends with whom I’ve lost touch over the years. I began to read my horoscope online on a regular basis just because I like to (although if there were no internets, I would read it daily in the paper-paper). I “chat” daily in abbreviated writing, with friends on instant messenger thingies. I’ve started writing this blog to become part of different communities/dialogs and work on my writing voice. And, most recently, I completed my fako myspace profile because several friends “discovered” my fako profile and invited me, so I tentatively uploaded a photo and filled in some stuff so it would be fako no more. I spend hours each day in front of the computer screen communicating with people without actually speaking to them on the phone or seeing their faces. In some ways, since my life and the lives of those in my communities are so transient and because we don’t freakin stop moving all around the world, we have no choice but to keep calling when we can and checking up on each other online when we can and finding time to visit in person when we can.
And it’s a lot of work. Friendships. Community. Relationships. They take commitment, time and energy to maintain, to grow.
Last week, at the wedding celebration of one of my closest amigas, elarkay, I was reunited with another of my old college roommates, who I see all too rarely, and who I dearly love even if we don’t call each other as often as we should. We lost track of time chatting over dinner. It was so great to remember how much we are still a part of each other’s lives. (I’ve been having a lot of these reunions lately!) She was asking about my “love life.” (Funny, I never call it that, but for lack of a better word, I’ll resort to the language of my middle school years. She’s been happily married for over 3 years now.) And she pointed out that the last few boys I’ve been involved with (or whatever the heck you call it) have resorted to communication largely via text. “Dating these days is so confusing to me with this texting and internet stuff. I don’t understand it!” she said. I don’t freakin understand it either! In my last serious relationship—which was long-distance for way too long—I’d barely discovered the cell phone. Shoooo.
But she’s right. Texting has been the communication of choice by these boys when we are not physically in the same room. Phone calls? MAYBE rarely, but texts on the regular. And I admit, I fully participate in this texting disaster because it seems that once it starts, it’s hard to stop it. Texting should be in addition to conversation, not in place of. And now? Myspace messages, comments, etc. We communicate on freakin myspace! And I didn’t even want to be on the dang myspace to begin with!
This is exactly why I have not even tried to date online. Because I cannot picture myself with someone who does not also see themselves as committed to being part of a community. And online dating doesn’t seem to be real to me because these online profiles and stuff don’t seem real to me. And isn’t all of this—friendships, communities, relationships, familia—supposed to be real? As in, not fake, no frontin, no bullshit? I mean, I enjoy hearing from amig@s now and again—even just the “what’s up homegirl, i was just thinking about you and thought i’d drop a quick line” kind of deals. But c’mon now!
Even my profa, communicates in incomplete, 3-4-word email sentences. I’ll write a long email updating my committee on the progress of my dissertation–something they asked me to do–and she’ll write back a two-word reply. I should note, however, that she also managed to limit our preliminary exam discussion meetings to only 20 minutes flat! (We were supposed to discuss about 15-20 books per meeting.)
Anyway, the other night, mi manito and I were sippin’ some beers and shootin the shitz. I was telling him that when I ask people how they are doing, I really mean it, but oftentimes they don’t actually answer the question. (Of course, people might not wish to share how they are actually feeling at the moment, so they might be avoiding the question. Or they could be assuming that I’m asking the question and not really meaning it.) Manito thinks that too much internet communication encourages people to build a stock of phrases that they use to begin or end messages/conversations with, most of which imply face-to-face connections. For example, “talk to you soon” or “see you soon”—only, you’re not going to talk “soon” or see each other “soon.” Manito’s pretty hardcore, so he even suggested that such stock phrases might reveal a lack of self-confidence—that we type these things because we feel we should, not because we actually mean it. He thinks I should just delete the online profiles all together—especially the myspace.
Yeah dude. The thing is, I’ve been able to get in touch with so many college and grad school friends who I haven’t heard from in years by using these online networking things… so I’m hesitant to scrap the online community thing all together. And yet, I envy my grandparents, who still rent their telephone (the kind you actually have to DIAL) from the phone company and only know how to call people who are already programmed into their cell phone (mi papá bought it for them, of course). They have real conversations with real people—even if only for 5 minutes at a time before they get frustrated that the conversation is not face-to-face.
In some ways, I think, the internet seems like just a tool to build community, as long as it doesn’t remain the sole means of communication, it can be a really good thing I think. AND online communication is different with people who you’ve already built relationships with. But sometimes I’m just so frustrated because it feels really impersonal and it’s difficult to move beyond the impersonal through typing. So here’s the pregunta: What do you think about building relationships/community via the internets? Have we become too dependent on technological advances (cell phone texting included)? Or is it just a matter of learning to love the internets?
p.s. I tend to think blogging and goodreads are different if only because they are often about storytelling. And I do love storytelling! (but that’s another post for another day.)