September 21, 2007

Are our relationships defined by our online habits?

Everyone has a friend or two who takes that much longer to respond to emails because they just don’t ever check their accounts, who don’t want to join social networks and who never pop up on IM and gTalk. What happens when you fall in love with someone like that?

A friend in a serious relationship has declared herself as “single” on Facebook, the social networking site, not because she isn’t madly in love with her boyfriend, but because her boyfriend won’t create a Facebook profile. As a compulsive Facebook user (she updates her picture weekly and has at least 5 new posts on her wall every day), many of her social and family ties are maintained through communications via Facebook. In not joining Facebook, her boyfriend misses a part of life that is important to her.

In a more extreme example, a recent Wall Street Journal story profiled a man who is married to two women; one in Second Life and an entirely separate woman in the real world. The article describes how the man logs onto Second Life so he can spend hours on walks and motorcycle rides with his Second Life wife while the food left for him by his real-life wife remains untouched and unnoticed.

It seems to be an intolerable situation for the non-cyber wife. There is no question that her husband is neglecting their relationship in favor of his online life. The article does not offer substantial reasons for why she does not attempt to join him in his online domain—perhaps she is just not interested in cyber worlds. In hindsight, it would have been good to know that her future husband had a consuming interest/passion (way of life) that she does not share.

Will we soon be living in a world bifurcated by those who live a life fully immersed in the communicative and expressive tools the online world has to offer and those who deliberately choose not to communicate in those spaces?