Real world vs virtual world

August 31, 2010

The way communication in the virtual world can affect behaviour in real life was the starting point for my discussion about on-line matters with Jim Mora on Critical Mass today.

It was prompted by I Tweet Therefore I am  in which Peggy Orenstein asked:

 How much, I began to wonder, was I shaping my Twitter feed, and how much was Twitter shaping me?

She writes on “Alone Together,”  a soon-to-be-published book by Sherry Turkle, a professor at M.I.T., who interviewed more than 400 children and parents about their use of social media and cellphones.

 Among young people especially she found that the self was increasingly becoming externally manufactured rather than internally developed: a series of profiles to be sculptured and refined in response to public opinion. “On Twitter or Facebook you’re trying to express something real about who you are,” she explained. “But because you’re also creating something for others’ consumption, you find yourself imagining and playing to your audience more and more. So those moments in which you’re supposed to be showing your true self become a performance. Your psychology becomes a performance.”

Writers have always been observers, tucking away incidents and anecdotes in mental notebooks knowing they might be the seed from which future writing grows.

When I was writing regularly for the ODT I did this all the time, letting ideas simmer away at the back of my mind before I retrieved them and turned them into a column. In doing so the I in the column was almost always a wittier, more clever woman than the me in the here and now because I had the time to polish the words through which she was shown.

Now electronic media has turned more people into writers, bloggers, tweeters, facebookers  . . . These media enable them not just to chronicle what’s happening to them but to do so almost instantly. There is a danger that in doing that people could let the real world becomes less important than the virtual one for which it provides inspiration and let the virtual one shape the real one.

Like many other phenomena, social networking can be a force for good if you use it wisely and well or a force for ill if you don’t.

To demonstrate that social media can be fun and even helpful, we also discussed the Dry July Star Chart Deborah created which concluded with a post on the efficacy of start charts at In A Strange land.


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