The general public is full of crazies. This validates our assumption that the online world is full of crazier crazies because now people can be more anonymous, and anonymity is the main survival tool of any genuine weirdo, allowing him or her to carry on. Of course, there’s the serious issue of stalkers on Facebook and MySpace, which is not to be taken lightly. There’s also the harmless stuff, the running joke of, “Hey, I’m glad we got to meet face to face finally, I’ve been stalking you on Facebook (tee hee). Let’s go hang out,” and all turns out friendly and good and you gain some new friends.
I was thinking about this the other day about how many people I’ve connected with online as acquaintances after meeting them through friends, or at business-related mixers or events. You know the routine…you go to a trade show while on a business trip, or a party somewhere, or even just a local watering hole and strike up a conversation with a perfect stranger. After you meet someone that doesn’t seem like Jeffrey Dahmer’s illegitimate love child, you ask if they’re on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter. You get back to your hotel room or home base and get online, find them, and add them. They accept your request and you are now “connected” or “friends.”
Presumptuousness Is The Bastard Child Of Fear.
So it’s no mystery that the human majority takes a look at someone they don’t know and absorbs what microscopic sliver of information about that person they can get their senses on (hair color, their interaction in a restaurant they just witnessed, the wedding ring on their finger). Then their next step is to make massive detailed assumptions about how/who/what that person really is about, their background, their personality, their life history, and so on. It’s human nature. We’re all (to various degrees) innately uncomfortable with not knowing everything there is to know about the people we see around us. Where there are informational gaps, our hearts and minds do their damnedest to fill all those gaps as fast as we possibly can with whatever so that we can comfortably continue to deny some of our own insecurities and the reason we are drumming up all this bullshit.
I understand that there are situations where your common sense forces you to observe a situation so that you can genuinely protect yourself. For example, going into a dark alley in the wrong neighborhood where you’ve just seen a drug deal or “transaction” go down, lends itself to some safe assumptions, the main one being: “I’m probably sacrificing my personal physical safety by taking that particular path to the grocery store.” I think those assumptions are warranted and backed by sanity.
However, for the rest of the non-criminally active portion of the population, think about how exhausting it is that we do that, walking around pigeon-holing everyone. Think about how much energy we spend latching our own neuroses onto something so silly and intangible. I think that tools like Facebook and MySpace and the social sites in general may be providing a positive spin on how we meet new people and form our positive and negative opinions about them moving forward.
Over recent months I’ve had the opportunity to actually go hang out with people face to face that I had initially met on Facebook. Before we even got together I made the effort to comb through their photo albums, check out their status history, take a gander at content they had posted, and read about them on the info section of their profile. Since I’ve started to make a general practice of doing that with random people I’m connected with on Facebook, a couple of interesting things have happened for me.
- First and foremost, it was a reminder that I don’t even know a fraction of what I thought I knew about people that I’m connected with online. This immediately set off the process of deconstructing my assumptions, pre-conceived opinions/notions, and heaps of information that I had assembled about these people. In an effort to protect oneself, these assumptions (more often than not) never give people the benefit of the doubt….especially if you are a skeptical, cynical bastard like me.
- The next step is that I began to build up or construct a new picture of this person in my head based on the content that they provided about themselves online. Unless they’re all pathological liars, I felt like I had more valid info now and was able to fill in the gaps with data that was probably much closer to the truth about who they were than all the crap I had concocted in my head prior without any of their content.
The End Result.
So as I was starting to go through this exercise of researching someone before actually hanging out with them, I realized a message was being heavily reiterated to me. My experience when meeting this person for the first time, with me focusing on a more informed opinion about this person, made the get together way more interesting and smooth. I knew what topics would be better to avoid, which ones might spark really good conversation, etc. It’s funny too because people are almost surprised (and probably uncomfortable) that I went and crawled all their info beforehand. The sad thing is that the concept of me wanting to research them first so that I was better prepared socially to interact with them means that being unprepared and uncomfortable is a social standard for many. This to some extent means that it’s probably more comfortable to them if you just make the status quo assumptions because then I’d be going in blind, squirming to find our common ground right there on the fly, which always sucks.
I’m not the first to come to these conclusions by any means but my recent experiences with Facebook in particular have illuminated a lot when it comes to human interaction patterns and reminded me that, as a whole, when it comes to socializing, people have some serious work to do, myself included.