It’s the question nagging everybody. Are those people we meet online who they really are? How many sides of them have been hidden? Or maybe their whole online persona is fake!
The common sense “it’s on the internet, therefore it’s not real” started a decade ago, with the advent of instant messaging. AOL, Yahoo groups, ICQ. Kids, the internet was a crazy random place then.
Most instant messaging services relied on giving you random people to talk to. You would sit there and chat for hours, and end up knowing nothing new or verifiable about that person. It was like all the internet was chatroullete, minus the cameras. Any person believing anything said online at that time was considered very… sweet natured.
But think about it. The internet is changing by the month, we are pioneers of the biggest thing since the telephone dammit! Judging by recent developments, shouldn’t the age old wisdom be examined once more? Does it still hold water in the age of mutual connections?
By personal experience, I’ve felt every kind of social network offers something new, a different side if you may will:
Facebook is your identity. Your physical identity, fashion sense, city, school, social circle, family, class, ethnicity, the things you are born with. Don’t expect to find anything else though, with the new crowd it’s getting, facebook has become a place to comment on wedding or new baby pics. With the sheer number of 3ammehs and khalehs, nobody puts anything personal up there anymore.
MSN/Gtalk has changed. Most (not all) of the randomness faded, and for many of us, the people we chat with are people we already know from somewhere else already, or old online friends. Chatting is like a one on one interview, it depends on the social skills of both participants. You either sink into the depths of the other’s psyche, or get fed utter bullshit.
Twitter lacks the detailed identity facebook offers, or the focused attention chatting does, but boy does it make up! Twitter is the land of the mind, of ideas, and if you don’t brew them up on your feed, you will never succeed. What makes it so beautiful is that people who understand each other (not similar, those who comprehend your mind) form pockets, and these pockets grow larger and deeper. The whole feeling of your mind and soul reacting with those out there, and getting reactions in return is… unprecedented.
A personal blog however, nobody can beat. You just sit there, holding your coffee mug, smiling about how much that person can get to you. It connects you to their hearts, their essence. You can be infatuated with a person through their personal blog only.
Lastly come the common interest social networks. It can be music, gaming, cooking or any hobby. You’ll meet people there, but most of the talk will be of that interest. It’s a good final side though if you know what to look for.
Every site is a side of your friends’ personality, and the more active they are on different places, the more you get to know them. Mathematically, there are three factors, Dimensions (number of personal sites), Depth (how active they are on these sites) and Duration (how long you have known the person). My rule of thumb is three Dimensions with above average Depth for over five months Duration. A person like that may still be hiding his true identity from me, but it’s just as hard to do as it is in real life, which supports our original question.
I searched for empirical evidence to my claims. At first it was the Syrian facebook or twitter friends. Real life meetings with nearly all of them were very successful, nothing I knew turned out to be wrong. But then again I didn’t know much by the time I met them, so it wasn’t proof enough. Then came Jordan…
After six months of blogs, tweets, emails, facebook, chat to such an extent that we believed we knew each other more than out respective mothers did, I left for Amman to know my answer to the first cybersophical question. I braced myself for a moderate 70% similarity, and was blown away with what I saw. They were the same exact people I’ve known for so long. The shy online were shy, the temperamental temperamental, the introverts introverted, the egotists egotistical. Then it hit me, what else was I expecting to happen? What other scenario did I have in mind? I am close to these people and have connected with them, why was I expecting that to change suddenly?
Personally, I’ve solved the first question: with an attention to detail, emotional intelligence, genuine interest, and the rule of thumb, tweeps are in fact very real.
Now to ponder about the much more difficult question number two…