Real

11350687_10206076546606035_1964485720948868086_nI’ve been lucky to be able to continue my career largely from home since I became a parent. What makes it possible is the Internet. (The Associated Press has decided to call it the “internet,” but I am not yet prepared to lowercase.) The fact that I can edit and write remotely, and communicate with supervisors and editors that way, and even send my invoices to accounts payable without ever leaving my computer is what makes it doable. It’s kind of incredible, especially considering the thing didn’t even exist when I was in college or a lowly editorial assistant.

The flip side of all those benefits is that I can literally be by myself all day long and never interact with another human being. Sure, I can email, or like something on Facebook, or text, or retweet, but those aren’t real interactions. Are they?

I don’t at all mind being alone, or working alone, so it’s not a matter of me needing more social interaction. And I find it wonderful and satisfying that we can all get so much more done with so much less fuss with the Internet. I like the intimacy and immediacy of email when it’s used as a way to write a letter of sorts, and not just for information-sharing purposes. And there are even several people I’ve never met who are my “friends” online whom I consider real friends, who arguably know me better than they might if we were simply acquainted offline.

But social media can also be exhausting, and off-putting, and upsetting. It can be passive-aggressive. It can be plain old aggressive. It can be used for good, and I believe I mostly use it for good, and that most of the people I interact with do too. But it can also be used to be obnoxious and cranky and hateful, and to make other people feel bad (intentionally or not). And, of course, it can be a huge waste of time.

I’m observing that my feelings toward tweeting and posting and liking and favoriting (do we do that anymore?) and sharing and commenting are changing a bit. The shine, as they say, is off.

Maybe I am after a bit more of what’s real.

I was discussing this with a friend recently (via email). Even when you set out to be real, writing something down, fashioning your thoughts into sentences intended to communicate, yes, but also to evoke a certain reaction, is already an act. Posting something with the expectation that people will immediately read it and react to it already creates distance between you and what was real and true about what you wrote.

It’s different from sitting across a table from someone or next to them on a couch while you’re talking, being able to see their face and their eyes, their real-time reactions. It’s different from just saying what comes into your head when you’re with someone you feel comfortable and easy with — or even someone you hardly know but who is right there in front of you.

It may not surprise you to hear that I decided to look up real in my trusty dictionary. (Actually, I didn’t — what I did was go to m-w.com and type in “real.” I miss the days of paging through that worn red-covered book with its alphabetical tabs.)

Here are the three definitions:

  1. actually existing or happening; not imaginary
  2. not fake, false, or artificial
  3. important and deserving to be regarded or treated in a serious way

The first one seems obvious, but upon closer inspection, it raises more questions when you think about the Internet. What does actually existing or happening mean there? Does it mean people are noticing it, looking at it, watching it, listening to it? That’s legitimate — there’s something that people are interacting around. They are not imagining it. It’s there, even if virtually. It’s making them feel things: joy, excitement, sadness, envy, anger, outrage, disgust, inadequacy. Feelings are real, even if you can’t physically grasp them.

But aren’t they sometimes a little bit manufactured online? That brings us to the second definition. Something fake, false, or artificial isn’t real. The way we’re able to make our lives look and sound and seem just the way we want them to online is artifice. Of course, we can do that in real life, in person, as well. It’s just not quite as easy.

The third definition is my favorite by far, because it goes to what truly makes something real: value. The more we have to live with and in the unreality of being online, the more important and valuable things that are truly authentic become.

True connection is the most important thing I can think of. For real.

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