There are the stereotypes. The skinny, underfed and scrawny boy in front of a monitor. A heavy set woman pretending to be svelte in a chat room. Geeks downloading porn. A social misfit posting her manic and poetic cries for help on a web site (wait, that sounds like me; scratch that). Even now, my own boss, giving day trading advice from a laptop while not taking advantage of anything else about the internet. People from all kinds of backgrounds make their mark online, but we are often set up to believe that only the stereotypes are the truths. Until, of course, we see their supposed picture or meet them IRL.

This argument has likely been rolled around on E2 before, but I thought the title was catchy, so I ran with it. I have a strong, though sometimes confusing opinion of the internet based on emotional involvement, both with the internet as a tool and with other people that I've connected with in some form using this tool. Aside from exchanging and locating information, the internet is about people, it is about communication in various forms, most of which blow to dust in the reality of the physical realm. There are even times when I am describing a conversation I had online to someone in person and I move my hands like I am typing: And then he said (mute fingers wiggling)…

Not everyone wants to unite the two worlds, either because they don't see the division between the mental and physical, or maybe they don't care. I think a lot of us are privy to losing the physical almost altogether in exchange for the mental existence online, either because the physical world has lost much to offer us or that the mental is simply too fulfilling on its own; it gives us more of what we want.

When your livelihood is dependant upon the internet, you are likely not making much contact with anything tangible during the majority of your waking hours; it's mostly ideas, concepts, plans, grids, pages, etc. You click a mouse and you have set something in motion on a screen, but you haven't necessarily made anything, even though I'm sure many of us would beg to differ that as fact. I consider my writing to be real whether it's in a journal or on my web site, but not everyone writes. And there is a large sphere of common knowledge to be shared online that may not be so in normal, coffee table conversations, since you need a computer to show what you mean.

All I am saying here is that if your profession applies the internet and computers as its basis, you would almost need to work that much harder to keep the physical world real to you. And I'm not just talking IRL human relations. I mean to remember that we have bodies and senses, that we are not just social creatures but ones who are likely to need contact with the outside world. To not see every trip in a car as a commute or a way to get to the movies or the coffee shop or other places we go but places we may not exist in.

I think about my ex and the word compensation. I also think about myself and how I've compensated for the feeling that I have not always been chummy with the outside world, that often I felt, it wanted little to do with me. We compensate for our bodies with our minds when we find them lacking, and so I would also think the internet can be used as a furthering of that compensation, that struggle for balance.

When I felt socially inept, I went in my room, read books, watched movies and created a bubble from within the world to shelter me from it and offer a place where I had, more or less, complete autonomy. My ex, being small in stature and prone to bullies, did the same thing with his mind. He learned to use a computer at 9 by reading the manual, and so, has been of front of one for most of his life. He is diabetic and so was always sickly as a child, so he didn't have much to go on with his body. In time, it filtered into other areas of his life and ultimately, our relationship. He fed his urges to connect with the physical on almost a purely carnal and hedonistic basis, and I was his target. But I sought to connect with the physical differently, and so now, I am trying to do that. It's a day to day struggle for balance.

The Net is not enough, on its own. An IM conversation is not enough. E-mail is not enough. None of it is enough to fulfill us. We will always be craving the other side of life, and in its void, our efforts to find it can become misguided or mutated from their initial intention. But will we admit that? Will we work to prevent it?

What do you do to keep the balance?

The appeal of internet relationships, the connections that Templeton describes, is at least partially, the desire for meaning in chaos.

People want a "real" conversation with people who think about things they think about , care about things deeply and wear their hearts, dreams, fears on their sleeves, or at least on their homenodes.

It is artificial and that distance somehow makes the exchange magical, this belief that it is super real , as opposed to surreal. In this sense internet conversations are like confession- "I can't see him, he can't see me...."

It is also much like psychotherapy, in that both sides are able to shield large parts from the other as the therapist and the client dance in and around the issues that brought the person to the process. It is not natural to talk to a stranger about intimate parts of a person's life. It is not natural to give out personal stuff and get back only a nod or a hmmm in return. But it is obviously popular and often successful.

Like internet sharing, the relationship is seductive. It is why transference and countertransference exist.

Yalom, one of the predominant thinkers in group psychotherapy describes therapy as based on a fundamental lie.

"You will be treated as special, I will reserve time for you, I will talk only to and about you. But I will not make you essential to my life. I will move on to other clients and forget about you. Trust me anyway."

We know so little about most online people, but we want to know them. We want to embrace the truth we believe is in the them. The seashells they share with us (LOOK, see what I found!) The fact that people want to use the net to connect is a positive sign for human nature I think. The fact that there is so much interest in this site is fabulous: it all about connecting, interconnecting and superconnecting.

As for the "real world" maybe some people would like to practice learning and sharing and really connecting with people in a module, an intimate relationship school-life with training wheels. I would have loved to have had this when I was younger and generally doing everything wrong.

Imagine if we related to our friends and family with the directness shown here, examples:

you: Here's what I think
them: Well, not bad, BUT, here's what I think
someone else: I hate that, you are stupid
someone, else: I love that, thanks for sharing.

If you have any friends who are hearing impaired you may have had a taste of that. Pretensions don't go over well in ASL.

Best of luck to all of us as we try to take the best of Everything out of the tube and into our world.

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