Random thoughts from an animal-loving French prof / mom of three on things she finds beautiful, funny, sad, or strange.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Internet of People

There has been a lot of talk lately about the Internet of Things. It's an intriguing concept. But I've been thinking more about what I wanted to call the Internet of People until I found out that this, rather perplexingly, does not refer to human beings but rather to the technological devices they might wear. Silly me. Here I was thinking people and their electronic accessories were entirely different entities. I for one have never confused a person for his Apple Watch...

Anyway. When I think "Internet of people," I am reflecting on what the Web can...and can't...do for human relationships. Note that I said "for" and not "to"– the latter is a subject for another day. Also note that I am not just talking about romantic relationships– those are yet another subject for yet another day. I mean all relationships.

Case in point: I logged onto social media for a few minutes the other day, something I hardly ever do any more. One of my Facebook friends had an entertaining post about his (mis)adventures in the kitchen. I smiled, read a few more posts from other friends, then logged off and went about my day. It was only later that I realized that my smile wasn't so much about the post as about the fact that this is someone from my real, day-to-day life. I know that kitchen, those pots and pans, that home. And thinking about all that is what made me click "like."

At the same time, I have online friends I've never met in real life, yet with whom I also share a lot. I'm thinking especially of my sister warrior moms. We may not have that extra layer created by meeting in person, yet I feel such a strong sense of connection with these women. Are those ties any less valuable just because they were made and might always remain in cyberspace?

And what about this blog? I have no idea how many people actually read it, though I see the page views are climbing. Does it reach people? Do they feel connected? A friend pointed out blogs can feel one-sided. She's right. Not to mention that it's hard to remain true to my voice when there's no dialogue. Maybe people will start commenting here and then the spirit of exchange will come to life. Meanwhile, I'll keep reading every post aloud to be sure I still sound like me.

This brings me to what I see as the biggest Internet relationship conundrum: one's relationship with oneself. As the mother of three teenagers, I am acutely aware of online promises and pitfalls when it comes to self-image. I see people, especially young women, post countless "selfies" in a desperate attempt to establish a sense of, well, self. Sometimes these posts annoy me, but more often, they just make me sad. I want to hug these kids, tell them to look in a mirror instead of a cell phone, and stop setting themselves up to be objects of others' derision or desire. I know they won't listen, but I want to do it all the same.

I guess all my rambling boils down to this: relationships can be built and sustained online. But if, along the way, you lose touch with your truest, best self, then in the end there is no relationship at all.

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