Virtually living. How many of us here are doing just that, I wonder. I’m going to share something a little personal with you today in my musings. But there is a point to it …

The other day, I was “on the road” for my job – the first time in several years that I was doing so. It’s something I love, and was excitedly looking forward to getting back to talk to “my people”. Oddest thing was, each time I sat down with someone, I found myself awkwardly groping for contact … and anyone who knows me, knows that has never been a problem. I felt very much “in a fog”. Why? What happened? What changed between then and now?

Driving home in the solitude of my car, and back to the quiet of my apartment, I searched for the answer. The next morning, as I flicked on my computer even before I started the coffee, I realized … I’d allowed myself to “live virtually”. Or rather, virtually live.

Over the last few years we have allowed our societal needs to become more and more fulfilled virtually … choosing not to interact person to person in the flesh, but rather on-line through a myriad of venues. We can come and go as we please, say what we choose (when we choose), and create a character that oftentimes bears little resemblance to the totality of who we are. Even if we feel we are being true in our portrayal and communications, I ask you this … if the people you are `friends’ with on-line were to move to your neighborhood, and want a flesh-and-blood relationship … would you welcome it? Or would a vague feeling of fear and uneasiness arise within? Would the sudden lack of control that a virtual friendship allows make you feel uncomfortable?

I see so many people here and at other sites on-line all day, communicating with a myriad of `friends’ … and yes, although the world-wide-web indeed offers us an amazing way to reach out and learn from others about different cultures, religions, traditions, and knowledge … it has also served as a cocoon, sheltering us from the many realities of real friendships and real relationships. A means to avoid dealing with difficulties, and making changes. It has given some an escape from the challenges found in a dysfunctional marriage, or a way of hiding from the fear of developing new relationships; to others, it’s a means to ignore the loneliness of isolation, and allowed another the illusion of popularity. The problem is … it is indeed, an illusion. An illusion as real as Alice Through the Looking Glass. It’s almost real. The impression is real … it feels real … but I wonder, just how tangible is it? Who of these virtual friends could I call if I needed a place to stay, a battery jump, a shopping buddy, or a night away from an aging parent … or simply a cup of sugar?

As for me, the awkwardness I felt yesterday served as a reminder that I need to spend a bit more time talking to the people down the street, meeting the post-holiday exercisers the gym, helping out the folks at the local shelter, and swapping stories with my clients. Living un-simulatedly.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” – Annie Dillard

R. Catherine Smith

R. Catherine Smith is a published writer and photographer. The image shown in this article was taken by her.

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