I got to thinking about this topic when I was in the nail salon waiting for my turn. A woman who walked in just before me used her cell phone as a license for rude and improper behavior in a small public space, which has become the norm these days. I got to know more about this woman's daily mundane consumer existence than I'd ever care to. It got me to thinking about how our response to society's concept of what is considered normal or acceptable will determine how we respond to social interaction and how fulfilled we are by it in its natural forms. You see, I think part of the reason cell phones have become so popular (aside from their increasing affordability and accessibility) is due to how we may or may not be fulfilled in our daily social interaction. As our lives become more complicated and compartmentalized, our desire for contact remains the same or increases as our availability decreases. We reach out however we can to others in whatever format is the path of least resistance. Cell phones incorporate well into this system, allowing for ease that is almost always abused and misused. Another example of this is the use of the internet, and for my purposes, I will stick to web communities as my platform.

When delving into social topics, I tend to look at things as having two sides: my own experiences and how they may be similar to others and the experiences of the opposite argument. I do this to make my argument as concise and linear as possible and because the only experiences I can use are my own and those I record around me as an outside party. With this in mind, I will try not to stereotype outside of my own experiences to avoid being narrow minded or one sided. I can only tell you how I am. I am shy in large groups and have always been since childhood. I am slightly introverted and find comfort in many solitary activities. In contrast, I am sociable in certain settings, preferably those small in number and intimate in nature. This means that I do not derive fulfillment from what would be considered the normal social constructs presented to me as options through typical forms: small or idle talk in large groups of people I do not know well. When I say typical I mean the scenarios that occur the most often because they require the least preparation, circumstances we find ourselves in by default of what we might prefer. While my inwardness may have stemmed from a sense of social awkwardness as a teen, it is now the result of preference in light of my options. I simply would prefer holding out for social interaction when I can be fulfilled by it; my needs are more intricate than can be sufficed by coincidence. I am more selective of those with whom I choose to have conversations and interactions, because from these I seek to lay a foundation for connection with others that goes beyond what I consider to be a dead end. By making this decision, I have a code of ethics that I adhere to in many areas of my life, and so my concept of social interaction is directly affected, as is my individual identity in relation to the world around me. While this may be considered normal and not unusual, the situations we are presented with from television, movies, and other forms of social commentary seldom show me a reflection of it as the norm.

While I am always open for meeting new people and seek to connect with them, I am not lacking completely of interactions in my current life that I consider fulfilling. I am close in my church community, have a few friends in town and more that are long distance. I have a boyfriend and despite my parents’ distance from me, we are as close as we ever have been. So my personal use of the internet is not a replacement for society but and accessory to it. I use the internet for those areas of my personal life that are not completely satisfied: my desire to communicate thoughts and reflections to a willing audience in a written format, my need for information that is easily accessible for various purposes, my interest in the lives of other people using the internet as a medium for communication, and my need to keep in touch with people in my life who are geographically distanced from me that I cannot visit in person as often as I would like. In short, the internet is merely an extension of my social reality.

I believe that this is a healthy way to perceive internet use, but because it allows for interpretation in so many people’s lives, it is always possible to misuse and abuse its capacity in social ways. The typical example would be those individuals who use the internet as a placebo or replacement for social reality, an example that has become a stereotype for our generation and the one that follows it. I do not believe that this misuse of the internet is isolated to this medium but is simply one possible end product of one system. For myself, I do not see that my internet use perpetuated or instigated my shyness or introverted behavior but instead allowed for an area of my social reality that could not be fulfilled by traditional means. The same is likely true for those who have enabled internet use to constitute more than its healthy share of social interaction in their lives.

Nothing I have said here should be new to the reader, and in addition I can provide no solution to the problem, if there is in fact a problem in this area. It is the awareness of the issue alone that interests me, for I desire only to know myself and understand why it is I do what I do and the purposes behind my actions. The adoption of mediums for communication like cell phones or the internet into our society reinforces more our need for connection with those around us more than anything, even if those attempts are misapplied, abused, or misused. We are and always have been social creatures, seeking a healthy social reality that feeds into many areas of our identity, both as individuals and as a community. It is not unusual for us to sacrifice virtues for the immediacy of potential vices, the addiction to hearing someone’s voice or to being a part of a community in whatever format can be established. To sacrifice, for example, the courtesy of public places and their requests for order and respect so that an individual can communicate with another who is not present. Or, to sacrifice social inclusion (or potential inclusion) and availability for communal inclusion in a web community. Both of these sacrifices can be made foolishly and for immediate gain, for ease and simplicity in the face of an ever complicating social construct.

As with all subjects surrounding society, the conclusion comes from balance, from working to establish a natural balance between two seemingly exclusive systems that are not exclusive at all but overlapping, one embellishing and reinforcing the other, keeping one another alive and healthy. All of which requires tact, responsibility, discipline, attention, discernment and respect. Basically, balance requires from us the concentration of all the things that make us human, all the things that make us the amazing and messy beings that we are, often wandering in the dark just trying to find one another, to make contact in these big, expansive worlds we inhabit.

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