I am not foolish enough to insinuate that communication skills are improving; I am, however, foolish enough to propose some benefits to the advent of texting, email, and instant messaging. Traditional means of communication — phone calls, conversations in public places — are, for most people, difficult. Not to say anything difficult is not worth the time spent practicing, but shy people can make friends more easily now than ever before (Hi, blogging friends!). Though I’m not exactly shy (I’m more of a stand-up-in-front-of-people-and-belt-out-karaoke-type), even I prefer texting over phone calls. Sometimes, I can’t think of topics at the drop of a hat, and sometimes I need a moment to think about what I want to say as to not deposit my foot firmly inside my mouth. With virtual communication, it’s easier for underrepresented groups, shy people, and entrepreneurial individuals to foster relationships.
The sea seems to part for extroverts, the American culture is built around a “go get em, cowboy” mentality. Canada, for example, is more nurturing possibly because their culture came out of forts that defended its people from the harsh winters. Americans went out and beat down the wilderness. Manifest destiny and all that. So, in an extrovert’s world, where can reserved people go? Their smart phones. There, it’s easy to think about what to say and to find people who share something with you. I know many people who have more online friends than they have those who they can meet in person. Many of those friends might live thousands of miles away, but the idea of an international friendship is appealing to most people, I’d wager.
Online communities are sometimes the only place one can go to find like-minded people. A gay or trans* youth living in a conservative area might have to look online to find people with whom he or she can relate. Despite the horrible dregs of society that message boards attract, there are good people on the internet. I’ve heard stories of them, at least.
It’s also easier to collaborate online. One can start a business, a magazine, or a music group online, and do all the promotion online. The cost of entry for artistic and business endeavors has plummeted thanks to the internet. I’m starting an online journal and I can do so with just some friends, an idea, and next to no money. Paired together, it’s a really great time to be an idea person. No longer are you confined to the resources within your immediate grasp.
The internet is both a force of diversity and one of conformity. Anyone can go online and only listen to the hateful, bigoted people who share the same narrow views, creating an echo chamber. Equally as possible is finding a diverse group who share common interests and their disparate experiences. It’s impossible to separate the two phenomena.
I’ve met an equal amount of awful people online and in person. The only difference is that online, I have a wider pool to pull from which means I have more chances of finding magical, fantabulous people who I can relate to. There’s also a block button to keep abuse at bay. I’m not saying stop practicing talking to strangers, it’s a useful skill, but you shouldn’t dismiss the friendship that one can find online, either.