What Does "In Real Life" Mean, Anyway?S

Hilary Stout of the New York Times recently wrote a piece exploring the ways childhood friendships are being changed by the internet, noting that "children used to actually talk to their friends," but now rely on computers and texts:

In discussing the increasingly important role of technology in the lives of children, Stout points out that aside from the typical "will somebody please think of the children?!" madness that usually accompanies such things, such as sexting fears and technological addiction, a new concern has come about; namely, that Facebook and text messaging might be robbing kids of the some of the more subtle benefits of friendship: "unlike their parents - many of whom recall having intense childhood relationships with a bosom buddy with whom they would spend all their time and tell all their secrets," Stout writes, "today's youths may be missing out on experiences that help them develop empathy, understand emotional nuances and read social cues like facial expressions and body language."

Stout's article also goes on to mention, however, that other researchers feel the technology is helpful for children who have trouble with face-to-face interaction, and that "to some children, technology is merely a facilitator for an active social life." The jury, it seems, is still out on the overall impact of texting and such on the lives of kids. But I don't think that attempting to pull children—especially those who have never known a world without such technologies—away from the computer is necessarily the best step.

Instead, perhaps, it's time we start re-evaluating what constitutes a "real" friendship, and consider that the way we communicate in 2010 is rapidly evolving thanks to the ever-expanding (almost to a creepy degree) reach of social media and the seeming need for everyone to stay connected on various platforms. Socialization is as old as the internet itself, yet the stigmas that used to be attached with the concept of "online friends" or "online dating" seem to lessen each year as the notion of making connections through the internet becomes less of a novelty and more of an everyday occurrence.

There's an old internet phrase that people love to throw around when they're shooting the shit online: "in real life," as if what they're typing and how they are interacting and the fact that they are sitting there, talking to another actual human being, doesn't count as reality, or living, or an active engagement in a form of communication. Yes, there's a disconnect, in terms of some people keeping personal details separate, or finding solace in a place where they can tell their secrets to those who they don't directly interact with, but isn't that "real life" as well? Aren't you still a participant in something? Aren't you still making decisions that somehow shape the way you go about your day? I suppose if one keeps a mentality that there is a "real life" and a fake life of sorts, every relationship one makes online will be removed from reality in a somewhat unhealthy way. It might be time to teach children—and adults—to consider that every interaction, whether it is in text or in person, is means of connecting with others, and we should all consider the positives and negatives that come along with it, and to remember that no matter how you're spending your time, "real life" doesn't end until the day you stop living it.

How Does Technology Affect Kids Friendships? [NYTimes]