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The Social Internet

I remember when being an avid internet user meant that you were a social hermit; that you would rather sit in a dark room in front of your computer than interact with people in the ‘real world’; and that there must be something wrong with you.

I think this was back in the days when extroverts ruled the world, and their opinion of people who would rather read books than to socialise with people was simply transferred to internet users. If you weren’t out playing sports or engaging in social activities like parties, etc, then there must be something wrong with you.

It’s amazing how times can change. Only ten years later, we’re seeing evidence that if you’re not using the internet, you’re way behind the 8-ball. If you’re not socially connected via websites like My Space or Facebook, then there must be something wrong with you. If you’re not involved in online multiplayer games, then you must be a social reject.

Social network websites and online gaming have become the foundation of social interaction in today’s society. If you’re not interacting on the internet, you’re just not ‘in’.

It’s funny, but ten years ago I was on the forefront of social networking via online websites and chat rooms. Now I feel like I’ve been left behind in some way.

I think it has to do with your age too. The older you are, the more you’re perceived to be on the outside looking in. Now that I’m 40, I see a lot of younger people interacting online in the same ways I am and have been for a decade, but I feel like they perceive me to be ‘out of touch’, simply because so many others of my age are that way.

Most of the people on Facebook are in their 20’s or 30’s. Most of them organise their social activities with each other through Facebook, My Space, etc etc. Most of my offline friends are in my age group, and their only online interaction is via email. They’re just not interested in social networking sites, or online gaming.

Therefore I’m left to interact online with people who are only online friends, rather than offline friends. And because of my age, they just don’t interact with me as much as they do with their own age groups.

Which is probably the way it normally is, in the offline world as well. We interact mostly with people that share our interests, and most of those are usually in our own age group.

I use Facebook to keep my friends in one place. Most of them have been offline friends, but are no longer able to remain offline friends (eg. in NZ), so now they’re just online friends. I also use Facebook to share interesting articles that I find on the net, as well as every one of my blog posts.

When I’ve played online games, I’ve made some good friends through them. Friends that I would never have met otherwise. Some of them are even reading my blog (hi Emelie!).

Online gaming and social networking allows us to interact with people who share the same interests as us. How could we not form friendships as a result?

Blogging is exactly the same. The entire concept of blogging is to share information with like-minded people. Online interactivity. Friendships and intimate relationships are even formed as a result of blogging, or interacting with blog authors.

The social internet and online relationships is slowly replacing the offline world. And it’s only going to become more prominent.

Games like Second Life and World of Warcraft are entire virtual worlds that allow you to form relationships in those worlds, work together in virtual careers or hobbies, develop virtual lives that you can log into to escape your real life. People are meeting partners, forming intimate relationships – even if they’re virtual relationships – and even getting married in the online world. Where does it end? Should it end?

As technology improves, and the online world becomes the only world worth being in, most of our social interaction will be done in an online world. Why have a simple party with your few offline friends when you can have an incredible party with your online friends from all around the world, in a virtual environment of your own creation? With video and audio communications, you can interact via your virtual reality interface, so that you’ll feel like you’re all in the same room together.

Who needs the real world when you have such a configurable and vast virtual world?

So how do you use the internet? Do you use it for social interaction, games, or just gathering information?

This post was inspired by this article – In defence of computer games.

It’s a common misconception that gaming is a solitary activity, as today an increasing number of titles are for gamers to get together and play in turn.

There’s evidence that playing video games can have a positive effect on social life, says Dr Mark Griffiths, a professor in the Psychology Division at Nottingham Trent University.

“Research carried out a few years ago found that moderate game players have a bigger circle of friends than non-game players,” Dr Griffiths says.

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