I often wonder what a poet like Emily Dickinson would make of today’s online world. In the 19th century she wrote a poem about the moment of her death. People often imagine what it would be like to attend their own funerals. Would people say nice things about them? Would that jerk who picked on them in fifth grade break down in a puddle of remorse and grief? Would that person they had always lusted after admit, just too late, that they had felt the attraction?
The online world is so hypnotic in part, I think, because we can create scenarios where we can actually witness how people might talk about us at our funeral. Consider, for example, what happens if you decide to go off the grid for a long time. When you come back, isn’t it interesting to see who started to wonder where you were? Who noticed you were gone? Who started to leave notes of concern because you suddenly had gone quiet?
How many times do you sign off and then take a quick peek on your phone to see who says, “I’ll miss you!”?
And yet, these are dangerous games we play. Trying to manipulate daily, weekly, or monthly grieving for our absence can have dire consequences. The most obvious one is that for many people, the online world is something that is engaged in with something short of full attention. When people sign in, they are here to promote their thoughts, their content, their ideas – themselves. This is not to say that they fail to enjoy your company when you’re around, but your absence may not leave an impression on them. Indeed, as sad as it is to ponder, it might not even register with them that we’ve been gone for ages (like, two days or so). For people who depend on the online world for their sense of well-being, this could be devastating. It could lead to a downward spiral. “No one cares about me, see, I told you!”
The online world is seductive. You can be anything you want to be. You can even post pictures of people who aren’t you and pretend that it is you. You can create a voice for yourself. In fact, bloggers are told that this is a must. You can highlight only the parts of your life that are most spectacular, and indeed, you can make those up too.
What we can’t make up, however, is that real feeling of human connection. This is what people who purchase fans and followers really miss, I fear. You could have 50,000 followers, 100,000 blog subscribers, however many fans you can muster on Facebook, but how many of those people are connected enough with you that they would notice your absence? Taking it one step further, how many would begin to get concerned over a longer period of time? For people who depend on these followers for affection, validation, or positive reinforcement, this lack of attention, perceived as lack of care, could, I hypothesize, be rather a hard blow.
Is this why people seem so antsy when it comes to the online world? Are people looking for a type of fulfillment that seems so much within reach, but then floats away out into the ether? Is this why people sometimes cry out for attention, because they want to know someone really does notice them and acknowledge their existence?
Are we playing with fire here?
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/orangeacid/189512184/ via Creative Commons