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“Identity and connections appear to have social value.”

George Oates

I am pondering some of my experiences with online communities, in answer to one of this week’s questions. However, this will probably head into psychology, so if that’s not your thing, there are much better blogs to read anyway.  I have no idea where this will take me…like I really ever have an idea.
Oates talked about lurkers and anonymous people, but his above quote about how identity and connections has me thinking about why me or any of us seek out online communities. Oates is referencing Flickr, a site I’ve never done anything with but have an online storage. Then I moved to Picasa, so I don’t even know if I have a Flickr account now anyway. We never had a camera for a lot of years growing up, so there aren’t that many pictures of me and the family from those days. That’s probably the reason I have never seen the value of sharing thousands of pictures online. I never use a camera much to this day. Yet, here are people putting themselves “out there” in all kinds of pics from all over the world.

What is it about that which people long for? Is it to show what they’ve done or felt proud of? Does it truly have something to do with identity so that you and your family/activities stand out as identifying you? Are they proud to just show who they are? Are they connecting themselves through this identifying mark? I’ve wondered the same with Facebook photos, hundreds of “friends,” and posts about what game they are playing. What is it which makes these things important, and what did we do before these web 2.0 tools came along?

Perhaps it is because I struggle greatly with identity and promoting myself. In counseling sessions, I have learned that I have a learned assumption (wherever it came from) that whatever I do, say, accomplish, is never worth sharing because why would anyone even care? I remember someone in the ministry wanting to see my degrees and I had to find them in a box somewhere. Perhaps I’m disconnected because I don’t really connect myself of who I am and where I have been. Yet, 500 “friends” would be as shallow as some of the 50 I do have.  How do you really connect with people today…given the fact you never really knew how to connect even before the Internet days?

Now that my divorce has been finalized, I decided to do something a friend recommended, and that was to look for relationships online. Always a curious one, I decided to join one of those sites. I had plenty of trouble trying to describe myself, let alone someone I was “seeking.” As I looked at what my “matches” were, I quickly realized how monstrous this whole thing is. So I sent some messages to attempt connection, but received nothing. According to reviews, that’s normal I guess. So why do people do this? At least in real life they tell you “no.” Here you get nothing. But it was fascinating looking at different personalities and interests and realizing I couldn’t pretend to be into all the things other people claim. They say most relationships come from online sources? What does that say about identity?

I got out of there and decided to delete the account…well, then I changed my mind. Then I did it anyway. I don’t see how this could ever benefit me anymore than Facebook (which I use for news feeds) or Twitter (same thing roughly). I obviously have no idea how to use these type of sites to connect, other than professional sources.

Yet, online communities are greatly populated with people hiding behind usernames, as Grohol points out. You can say online with anonymity what you could never say in person. Perhaps there’s a freedom to be who we can’t be in real life.  The most popular TV shows today are “reality” shows where contestants battle who they are with what they have to be to win the contest. Every move they make is recorded, and can affect the vote. What is actually reality is the games they play. Yet we do it everyday in the real world…or how do you answer “How are you?” We all play the game.

But yet billions depend on these communities for nurture, social support, and connection. And cat videos. A mobile society depends on these tools to create and sustain relationships. Hundreds of friends, followers, and contacts. This is the world as we know it.

I guess some of us are more connected than others. Maybe I’ll look for a cat pic.

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