In 2008, my husband and I were visiting Seaside, Oregon for my birthday. One night, we met a colorful couple from Idaho, Nancy and Jessie, who were on their honeymoon. We hung out for a couple hours, and at the end of the night Nancy asked for my e-mail address. Thinking nothing of it, I scribbled my e-mail address on a piece of paper, fully expecting never to hear from them again. A few weeks later, I received an email from Nancy. We wrote back and forth a few times and eventually connected on Facebook. Earlier this week, Nancy posted a “happy 9th anniversary” post to Jessie, which made me realize that I have been “following” her on Facebook for NINE years. I should also mention that I don’t hoard Facebook friends either. I tend to declutter my feed nearly as often as I declutter my closet. But I’ve always held on to Nancy. Over the past nine years, I’ve enjoyed seeing pictures of her children and landscapes of Idaho. She has inspired me with her fitness journey and her career shift towards a personal trainer. She has liked and commented on my updates too, as we’ve continued this pen pal type of relationship.
Beginning this blog post with an anecdote feels appropriate since both Turkle and Rosen rely on heavily anecdotes to support their claims about the relationship between intimacy and technology. Turkle uses anecdotal evidence in the introduction to Alone Together to show how our expectations of intimacy have changed with new communication technology. She recalls the roommate who texted her roommate instead of knocking on her door because “that would be intrusive” (2), Ellen who Skypes with her grandmother while she answers her email (13-14), and Randy’s disappointment that his sister, Nora, announced her engagement via mass e-mail (16). Similarly, in “Electronic Intimacy,” Christine Rosen draws on her relationship with a pen pal to support her argument that “we should permit ourselves a small lament for what we are leaving behind.” We tell stories like these because many of us can remember a time before fast communication, when we connected with others more intimately through letters and phone calls. In David Crystal’s lecture “The Effect of New Technologies on English” (the video we watched during the first class) Crystal maintains that it is simply too early to notice the effects of technology on English. Likewise, we are still in the beginning stages of of these new communication technologies, so we are not quite aware of the lasting effects of these technologies on human relationships. However, we are aware that something is happening. We are gaining certain things and losing others, and we use anecdotes to discuss these changes. Even those of us who embrace new technologies may feel like we are giving something up. Turkle points out, “As we instant-message, email, text, and Twitter, technology redraws the boundaries between intimacy and solitude” (11-12). She believes that it is in these online relationships that we find ourselves “alone together.”
It is through the lens of these readings that I critically examine my “friendship” with Nancy. Our relationship has added a certain value to my life, but I wouldn’t call it a friendship. If I ever found myself in her area, I probably wouldn’t ask her to meet up. Furthermore, I interact with her by applauding her highlights, but I am completely unaware of her low points. In this way, ours is an artificial friendship, similar to Turkle’s account of Ann who would consider a robot boyfriend because it involves less risk than a real boyfriend. My friendship with Nancy is easy since it doesn’t place any of the demands on my time and energy that characterize real friendships. If I didn’t get to know Nancy past that evening in the bar, I would have eventually forgotten about her altogether, and maybe that is how it was supposed to end. Christine Rosen echoes this sentiment as she concludes her anecdote: “That's life- or at least that is what the life of a friendship used to be. A closed door usually stayed closed forever.” I don’t want to close the door on my relationship with Nancy, but I am now questioning what Turkle would call my “weak ties” on social media, or “the bonds of acquaintance with people we may never meet” (13). I would definitely classify my relationship with Nancy as a “weak tie”, but this does not hamper my ability to have real friendships as well. Furthermore, I have plenty of weak ties offline, mostly with work acquaintances. Overall, these readings made me examine online relationships, and I am curious to hear your perspectives on how communicating with others online has affected our ability to connect with others.
A few questions to get started:
- Did any weak ties come to mind as you read this introduction?
- Turkle believes we do not prosper in these weak ties (13). Do you agree with her, or do these relationships with online acquaintances hold their own intrinsic value?
- How does frequent online communication affect the ways students connect with each other in the classroom?