[Internet] The “Weird” Socio-dynamics Of Online Communities

I must admit, I’m a lazy dinosaur in this tech stuff. After one too many discussion about my relationships with people I don’t see very often (read less than once a year), I just feel like writing things down and pointing the next inquiry in that direction…


Yes, I used to hang out on IRC a lot. I still have friends I consider very close that I met online “back in the day”. I met people in my travel who I must say I am not keeping in touch with to the level I would like. But these are the most enduring relationships I have, to this day. Feeling closer to a random dude I’m having a conversation with on Twitter than to a random person I meet in a bar really is nothing new.

OK, so?

There are two main facets to the online relationship you might form with somebody. Most people who have little to no experience with that will focus on the negative side : it can be completely anonymous and the “person” you’re talking with may have little overlap with the human behind the keyboard. Extremes include complete impersonation (sex change, age change, skills change) for fun or profit. But the more positive thing is you can also often see the “real” side of someone, who’s hiding it most of the time because of his/her real life constraints. That includes the kid who’s so shy he wouldn’t even come to a bar, but can be Ragnarok-The-Viking-667 online and be really funny, knowledgeable and socially inclusive online. Depending on the kind of activity you are having, the drive to be a predator, either literally or not, can be made irrelevant. Some services and some games reward competition and jackass-ery online, giving an edge to the “evil” side of the coin over the benign one, but it’s far from being the norm everywhere.

Do you have data that supports this? numbers? because I had the totally opposite experience!

Not really. I guess I’m lucky or something. But I found that even in online games, within the confines of a group acting together, the tendency to appear bigger and stronger than everyone else fades after a while… Or maybe I avoid being in activities that encourage being solo, the top dog, or whatever. The thing is, in my experience, I tend to bond easily with people I’ve only ever seen type, or heard the voice of, some of which even became good friends and had or still have “real life” interactions with me.

When you think about it, “anonymity” or a partial one is key to a good therapy. You are not supposed to know your therapist beforehand so that you can talk freely to them. The kind of relationship that develops after that is up to the participants, but the initial point of entry is no assumption. And that can be very liberating to people who might feel left out for reasons of their own. Online, you can be whoever you want. Most people will settle down to be “themselves” after a while, which is not the social mask we have to wear in some real life circumstances. So why not give these relationships the shot they deserve? It’s not any weirder than forming a bond with someone you just met at work, in a bar, or a friend of a friend.

PS: that’s what “being lazy” means to me : you do it once, and then you don’t have to do it again ;)


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