The Internet Giveth, and the Internet Taketh Away

There’s something ironic about the fact that I have such conflicted opinions of social media and electronic communication when it is by and large the way I most often communicate. It always makes me think of the Wally Lamb novel She’s Come Undone. If you haven’t read the book, let me first recommend it (or anything Wally Lamb has written, really) before saying that I won’t ruin it for you by giving too many details. Suffice it to say that in the novel, the main character’s life goes into a tailspin after she receives her first television and her life completely changes (and not really for the better).

I was in 8th grade, awkward, shy, socially backwards, and probably with ugly shoes, when my family got its first computer and AOL account. Going into chat rooms changed the way I communicated with people. With the safety of being behind a screen, it was more difficult for people to hurt me, and I had a much easier time letting my true personality show – my sense of humor and my compassionate side, particularly. (However, for those who think Internet bullying is a relatively new concept, I can attest to the fact that it existed in the mid-to-late 90s. Some of the same people who said mean things to me at school found me online and said mean things there, too. Kids are sharks.)

It wasn’t long before I went from chatting with friends and total strangers to talking to people I didn’t know well at my school. This was a cop-out in some ways and good in others. I would never have talked to these people at school, nor would they have likely talked to me, without the buffer of a chat window. However, when it was time to meet face-to-face with classmates (I never met strangers for obvious reasons), I knew that they would think it odd if I didn’t act in accordance with who they knew me to be: my “online personality” – the person I actually was, as opposed to the person who couldn’t figure out how to be herself around others. This forced me to come out of my shell, and by the time high school was over, I was still shy, awkward, and socially backwards (still am, really), but not nearly to the degree I had been (and I have a far cooler shoe collection). Continue reading