Before all else, it is important to note the breach between the extraordinary promise of an online social world and the current landscape of our online social world. The online social world is endowed with remarkable potential. As Jenna Wortham notes in her article, social media can be used as a platform to better understand one another, thereby, expanding our worldviews and empathy for one another. Using the online social world, ideas and information are reached and shared more often than at any other point in history. Over and above that, the online social world has the capacity to forge a world of connections.
However, the online social world that we are familiar with bears little resemblance to this ideal. Rather than growing in understanding, we are affirmed in our narrow-mindedness by likeminded people, and the beliefs of those that we don’t agree with remain unseen. Such happenings occur with the aid of an algorithm that considers your browser history and online contacts to display what it thinks will be pleasing to you. In our pursuit of knowledge, remarkable and well-founded ideas are buried and obscured in ideas with no basis in thought and information lacking in credibility. Another hindrance in our quest for knowledge online is featured in the documentary “Citizenfour.” In brief, “Citizenfour” tells the story of Edward Snowden, a brilliant man who forgoes his successful career and comfortable lifestyle by becoming a whistleblower on the NSA in order to make the American public aware of its blatant lies and invasive operations that compromise the privacy of the American public. One justifies his (what some people believe to be) treasonous acts with the hope that one day Americans can freely search and pursue knowledge without the fear of being monitored online: the unrestricted exploration of curiosities and interests. Moreover, contrary to constructing a world of connections, we are building a world of disconnections and misconceptions perpetuated by online profiles that give way to unrealistic perceptions and expectations.
Due to my lack of social media, I do not have much personal experience to draw from to assess the benefits and drawbacks of a life and relationships lived online. However, I read a collection of short essays written by Meghan Daum compiled in “My Misspent Youth” that I will use as my source into this unfamiliar world. In her essay “On the Fringes of the Physical World,” Daum speaks of her encounter with a particular relationship fashioned online. Daum was contacted through email by a man with the username PFSlider who was a big fan of her writing. Although Daum didn’t usually respond to emails of this nature, this one seemed different. A correspondence began and quickly blossomed into flirtation and eventual relationship. She explained their online setting as “a neat little space in which [they] were both safe to express the panic and intrigue of [their] mutual affection” (17). However, she was lulled into “the false comforts of the cyberspace persona” as an “avenue for remoteness” (19), and, therefore, when PFSlider flew to New York to see Daum, “the physical world invaded [their] space” (20). It was clear that they were utterly incompatible. She eloquently explains the role that the medium of email had on their relationship in the following quotation:
“E-mail had become an electronic epistle, a yearned-for rule book. The black and white of the type, the welcome respite from the distractions of smells and weather and other people, had in effect allowed us to be vulnerable and passionate enough to actually care about something. It allowed us to do what was necessary to experience love. It was not the Internet that contributed to our remote, fragmented lives. The problem was life itself” (27-28).
This is just one of many opinions on relationships lived online; this particular relationship did not sustain in the physical world, but that is not to say that all online relationships will have the same fate.