Thursday, February 2, 2012

Have we met?

Have you ever met someone, and felt like you had known each other for quite a while already? Have you ever shared interests and activities, and felt like the other person had heard about them before? Have you ever told your stories to someone, and felt like s/he wasn't at all surprised about your shenanigans? Or have you ever gone out on a date, and felt like the person smiling back at you honestly read you? If the answer to any (or all) of those questions is yes, either it points out just how wonderful it is when two people come together and click instantly or -- as is customary these days -- the person sitting in front of you probably googled you before meeting; and found out one or two things about you already. Naturally, that person knows you had been there, done this or loved that thing -- so s/he sensed how to lead the discussion. The end result: getting to know each other becomes predictable, sharing actual stories seems like pseudo déjà-vus; I-know conversations and lastly, the interesting, really thrilling part of first encounters is taken away i.e. the surprise-factor. Sad, but true - isn't it?

Without doubt, we can all assess how much the game plan has changed in the last decade. Thanks to the Internet, each and every one of us is just a google, or more accurately, a facebook, twitter, tumblryoutubegoogle+, linkedin or xing search away. In the past, when you wanted to get to know someone (better), you pluck up your courage and asked her/him out. In present time, it is almost expected that you make a clearance check behind a computer screen first before agreeing to getting to know that person (better). Unless your name is John or Jane Smith (and even if it were the case), you would be shocked about how much information you can find out about someone with a name and just about... anything: a school, a hobby, an activity, a hang-out place, an association, a food preference, and so on and so forth. Indeed, even the littlest idea can lead to discovering (or uncovering) a person's virtual identity.  It might sound extremely creepy, but de facto, anyone of us can easily turn into a private investigator and everyone of us can be scooped out. Ultimately, thanks to the amazing invention of the Internet and social media, we now live in a world of overexposure.

Certainly, what can be found about you on the Internet goes hand in hand with what or how much you are willing to expose -- regardless of what your privacy settings are. A lot practically live a double life:  almost simultaneously, what you are eating, where you are dancing or who you are having coffee with in the real world calls for an immediate update online. A great number of people also have their own agenda when it comes to using social media. In truth, it serves a personal purpose that is very efficient and cheap (i.e. free!), such as promoting music, a blog or events. Then, there are many -- whom I like to call silencers -- who have an account in order to be online and check what's going on, but who are not very active unless they are sharing a youtube video or a famous life quote. In the end, you belong to one of these categories or are in all of them at the exact same time. Either way, whoever you might be and no matter what kind of social media user you are in this day and age, we can all agree that people -- family members, friends, acquaintances and even total strangers, have become more accessible than ever before.

Of course, it is understandable (and acceptable) to update and share personal things with people you know and for people you know to update you -- But the important question is, why in the world would you search for a person you do not, or hardly, know -- especially if there could be some potential there? Is it because there is potential there? In the past, having a crush on someone meant being excited by the mere idea of him/her alone. In present time, you get even more excited because you can have a clearer idea of him. You know you can find out his/her whereabouts. You even have the possibility of aquiring his/her picture without him/her ever knowing about it. Once again, it might seem like an incredibly disturbing thing to do -- and we all know no one will ever admit to it -- but it is transparent that that is the practice nowadays. So why do it?

First obvious answer would be pure curiosity, evidently. Being voyeuristic became so much easier since hiding behind a computer screen: no one needs to know that you (like to) look around. Secondly, the reason why you search for people online now is simply because you can, so much more easily. (Un)fortunately. Once more, the Internet is pretty fantastic -- it is more advantageous than not because you can get so much information at the click of the mouse. Nevertheless, isn't this overexposure jeopardizing a lot of other extraordinary things in the process -- notably the incomparable and beautiful stage of connecting with someone? The moments that have the chance to impress, amaze, surprise you? 

The beauty of getting to know someone (better) lies in its unpredictability, the unknown or especially, the yet-to-be known. If you remove those crucial yet delightful stages because you were too curious or too eager, then you miss out on all the fun. Not a little, but on all the fun. Isn't it terrible to meet someone and feel like s/he already knows some things about you... for the wrong reasons? Isn't it terrible to meet someone and feel like you've been looked upon? Giving information to strangers online might not have been your intention, but it doesn't mean it wasn't out of reach. More importantly, if you googled someone before meeting again, you need to pretend like you have no clue at all. Truth is, not a lot of us are such talented actors that can pull off a surprised "Oh really?" or "Wow, I didn't know that." Ultimately, if you rely on someone's virtual profile, you are definitely creating virtual connections -- even in the real world.

It is not a secret: we live in a world of overinformation and overexposure. We yearn for it, and we got it, for better or worse.  Nonetheless, no matter how tempting (and easy) it might have become, there are some things that remain sacred. You must remember that the means of communication i.e. of social media should never impoverish -- even less replace -- what we use it for in the first place: connecting, having an actual human connection. Again, it is an accepted reality that these days, a lot of our relationships -- with family, friends, even acquaintances; near and far --  make use of social media in order to even sustain a connection. But you must not forget that there are other pretty extraordinary things that no computer or mobile phone can ever replace --  a person telling you his/her story, clicking with someone, getting to know someone new better on your own terms; without knowing beforehand, creating or forcing. The thing is: you can still have that surprise-factor if only you would let it. All first dates are blind dates -- and even if you have the help of social media today, they should still (always and forever) remain blind. Ultimately, it is when you rely on the person alone that you make real connections -- in the real and virtual world.