Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How can the Internet be Dehumanizing if it's Made up of People?

Is the Internet dehumanizing? Tam at View From the Porch doesn't think so:

At this very moment, somewhere some pasty-faced academic is sweating out his dissertation on the dehumanizing impact of the 'web. I think he's barking up the wrong tree. How can it be dehumanizing when it's made of people?

It was late on a recent Saturday night, I was in a poopy mood, and I had just updated my blog and toddled off to bed. As my head hit the pillow, the phone rang. On the other end were traffic noises, the muted drone of a cop radio, and a Texas drawl: "Leonard Cohen, Tam? What's wrong?"

Don't tell me it's dehumanizing.

It certainly doesn't have to be. I read many blogs where people seem to have a sense of community, despite all the blog fighting. If you lost your internet connection, would you suffer a sleepless night about the lack of ability to talk with others like this guy?

Honestly, its a bit scary. Building a chunk of your life around something, and losing it suddenly. It's 'loss', in its classic terms. I think it's like a deep wound. Once you have lived through 'loss', the wound remains even if healed over. The scar is there and sensitive to pressure, even the smallest prod. Losing the internet and easy access to most of my friends was a strong prod to think about these issues.

Loss has been to visit before, and left scars. Last night was lonely, and difficult.

It may be time for me to back up and spend some time getting comfortable with 'me' again. Last night showed me that... at any time.... it may be all I have.

While I have never lost sleep over the internet, I have to say that before the internet, I could count on one hand the number of people I felt I had anything in common with. I no longer feel that way, thanks to this wonderful machine, and to so many of you.


Blogger Dr Obvious said...

I used to be very into an MMO a while ago. It was the first time I bother to really connect socially with people I didn't know over the internet.

I discovered that it wasn't dehumanizing at all, but it did result in me spending less time with acquaintances in real life that I wasn't too terribly fond of.

I ended up spending more time with people that I liked, granted, over the internet, than with people I really didn't in real space. The friendships I made in that community are real, and I look back on them just as fondly as I do other friendships. They were a bit different, but no less human.

There was the touch and go moment when a friend found out she was pregnant the day after she found out her husband was cheating on her. Births were celebrated. Deaths were morned. We just did it over forums, in game chat, and IM.

2:06 PM, December 19, 2007  
Blogger Cham said...

I've probably logged more hours on the Internet than anyone else around here. I've had the opportunity to meet in real life many of those who I met initially through Internet communication. One of my best friends I met online. What I have learned overall is that Internet relationships are very different than real life relationships. Very few Internet friends would be someone I would want to hang out with in real life. I know several Internet people that have morphed into basement dwellers dealing with people almost exclusively online, they have few real friends and have allowed their personal appearance to suffer and their social etiquette to vaporize.

Internet people can be kind and nice but they can turn on you in a heart beat. The Internet is fine but you should make every effort to keep up your circle of real live friends, lest you turn into one of these.

2:39 PM, December 19, 2007  
Blogger wild chicken said...

When I first went online 15 years ago I was looking for smart, funny, literate people. I had actually started to believe they didn't exist anymore.

Now I know they exist, even if they might not hang out with me in real life. It does mean something; at least now I acknowledge that there is intelligent life out there and have returned to a more healthy state of humility. And I am amazed at the ability of some people to project their personalities online without benefit of facial expression or emoticons.

You still need a real life, but I am heartened by the willingness of online friends to have meetups and start real friendships, where I would have expected more reclusiveness.

4:57 PM, December 19, 2007  
Blogger David Foster said...

This story is very relevant.

6:11 PM, December 19, 2007  
Blogger Michele said...

I have met people online that I have loved, but when I met them in person I realized that their sentimental writing style, or warm friendliness, didn't translate in real life. One person wrote as the woman she wished she was, and not as the angry and aggressive person that she actually was.

That's pretty much the opposite of what one would expect, since so many people get on blogs and just drop the masks.

For the most part though, the internet has been great for finding support groups. And finding old real-life friends too.

6:51 PM, December 19, 2007  
Blogger Jeff Y said...

What's a "real life?" Having interesting conversations, encountering disagreement, growing with others in your views, getting it wrong sometimes, etc.? That's the Internet. The Internet is real life.

People never said stuff like this when penpals were the only way to communicate over long distances. Penpal relationships were seen as advantageous and enlightening. So is the Internet. The Internet is real life.

And Dr. Helen, thanks for your wonderful blog. It's read every day in my house.

8:58 PM, December 19, 2007  
Blogger Dr Obvious said...

Real Life: A polite way of saying "the meat space".

1:00 AM, December 20, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

I first signed on in the late 1980's. I've met some people who I first met online. I met my wife online.


I don't think it is a clear thing. There is more hate online that in face-to-face life. You can't get around that. But in general? It is not all that different from any of the coffee shops in any town or city anywhere in the English speaking world,

4:00 AM, December 20, 2007  
Blogger Roberta X said...

A significant portion of my life has been lived online, even back when "online" meant a 1200-baud external modem. --While I hope my appearance hasn't declined, if being extermely shy counts as a lack of a social skill, that would be me.

Less so now, thanks to online life but it's still easier for me to meet people via screen and keyboard first, otherwise I can hardly string one word after another.

5:38 AM, December 20, 2007  
Blogger TMink said...

I have had fights and laughs with people on this blog for a couple of years. Sounds very human to me!


9:34 AM, December 20, 2007  
Blogger Mike said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:57 AM, December 20, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thought I would finally post on this one. I think I have you beat on shy, Roberta. Not really, just real quiet. I have gone for two weeks without speaking to another person in RL.

I love the internet, the different folks and views. I enjoy this blog and all the readers.

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays (depending on which way you swing)

10:28 AM, December 20, 2007  
Blogger Tam said...


"Well, soylent green is made up of people, and that's pretty dehumanizing."

Did you even read the title of the linked post? ;)

10:51 AM, December 20, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

Hi Randall,

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to you too. Thanks very much for reading my blog. I hope that we hear more from you in the future. Just sign in under a fake name.

10:59 AM, December 20, 2007  
Blogger SGT Ted said...

Negative attitudes towards those who spend time online has always puzzled me. One can spend their evenings watching hours of movies, sitcoms or dramas on TV and that's considered normal.

But spend time online chatting or gaming with actual human beings and you might be some sort of anti-social weirdo. huh?

11:44 AM, December 20, 2007  
Blogger Mike said...


"Well, soylent green is made up of people, and that's pretty dehumanizing."

Did you even read the title of the linked post? ;)

That's not required to post comments on the internet, is it?

(Now I have....)

12:44 PM, December 20, 2007  
Blogger Earnest Iconoclast said...

Interacting with people online is better than not interacting with people, but it should not replace face-to-face interactions. Human beings need to see other people and see facial expressions.

The Internet is not "dehumanizing" but it can cause problems when spending time on the Internet crowds out other activities that are important. The biggest problem I find with the Internet is that most of the things I use it for are open-ended and I find it difficult to stop.

Again, it's not a bad thing, it's just not a substitute for face-to-face interactions.

And for the record, I met my wife on the Internet (but we're married in Real Life).

1:15 PM, December 20, 2007  
Blogger DADvocate said...

On the Internet you are more likely to have someone flame, defame or viciously attack you without cause.

But, I agree that "meeting" people that help you realize that you're not alone in your point of view, interests, etc. is humanizing. I've found many humorous, enlightening and heartwarming moments that override the negatives.

1:43 PM, December 20, 2007  
Blogger David Foster said...

To what extent does the Internet displace "face to face interaction" vs to what extent does it displace tv-viewing, movie-viewing, and print-reading?

I suspect that many of those who accuse the Internet of being dehumanizing are people who make their livings from media of the type being displaced.

Please note that displacement of print-reading does not necessarily imply the displacement of text-reading--often, it merely changes the form of the text.

2:53 PM, December 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the Internet. It gives me something to do with my computer.
After you win a couple games of solitaire, you start looking for new ways to justify the expenditure.

3:22 PM, December 20, 2007  
Blogger Will said...

I used to think in terms of a real life/virtual life distinction. But I think differently now, having met a couple of "Internet friends" face to face and having exchanged letters, books and cards with others. It seems to me that the Internet, if used wisely, is simply a means of communication in which you meet and talk with real people, and make real friends.

9:15 AM, December 21, 2007  
Blogger David Foster said...

G K Chesterton had some cautionary thoughts about associating only with those you have selected (the "clique") rather than those who are just automatically there (the "clan"). His thoughts, and my comments, here.

12:10 PM, December 21, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Net works for me because I'm much more interesting in writing than I am in real life. That's not to say the written me is fake. It just frees up the bits of my personality that I find difficult to expose in the normal, day-to-day environment. I am more like myself online, where I feel relatively safe, than I do at my office or elsewhere, where I usually feel very self-conscious and even threatened.

Knowing this, I would never try to convince someone that the me they met online is the same as the me they would meet in person. The off-line me would inevitably disappoint.

1:37 PM, December 21, 2007  
Blogger Serket said...

I think it can be dehumanizing, because the partial anonymity allows your vicious side to come out more easily.

roberta x: even back when "online" meant a 1200-baud external modem.

I think the first one we had was a 2400 baud, and I still use a 56k.

Michael, I saw a sticker on a car recently, and I don't remember the exact details, but I think it said Soylent Green.

earnest: (but we're married in Real Life).

LOL, good for you!

David, I did not read the article, but my uncle feels that the internet makes people more radical in their political beliefs.

2:26 PM, December 26, 2007  
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