I don't pay any attention to football, college or otherwise, and hadn't heard of Manti Te'o until his "fake girlfriend" story hit the news this week. I find the story oddly fascinating and have spent the week reading all kinds of articles about similar internet scams (good links here and here). The interesting thing to me is that so many people lie on the internet for no other reason than boredom, loneliness, and curiosity about how other people will react to them. There usually isn't any kind of tangible physical gain for the perpetrators, and often there isn't a tangible loss for the victims. It almost seems worse to me, though, to be stealing things like trust and intimacy rather than money.
These types of stories make me a little uncomfortable too because they bring to the surface the feelings I have underlying many of my internet interactions: is this a 'real' event? We are sharing ideas and writing intimately about ourselves, and my mind and heart have been profoundly affected by interactions I have had with people online over the years. On the one hand, you could argue that it wouldn't matter whether I've interacted with people who are authentically who they claimed to be. When I am debating ideas about literature or commiserating about parenting with another person online, does the content matter more than the person who is presenting it? On the other hand, in an online environment, identity and authority seem to matter even more than in other situations because they are the only cues we can rely on in our interactions.
During the last eight years since I discovered blogging the internet has gradually become more and more a part of my life. I spend a lot of time writing here and on other blogs, reading and commenting on blogs, and doing stuff on Facebook. I am hesitant to fully condemn the internet as being 'not real' or as merely being a time-suck that is killing my brain cells. I am an assistant editor for a blog that has published writing by dozens of talented women and serves as a community for LDS women who crave real discussion and a place to belong. Through blogging I have connected with a community of people who have some connection to being LDS and gay and are trying to navigate that whole mess of contradictions. Facebook has allowed me to stay in touch with good friends from various points in my life. Many of the interactions I have had in these settings, though taking place online, have been very real. They had real impacts on my life and on the lives of everyone involved.
I think one thing that has made my internet experiences more real and more valuable is the fact that I try to temper them with lived, non-virtual interactions with the people involved. When I started using Facebook I created my own personal policy of not adding anyone as a 'friend' unless they were someone that I knew and had interacted with at some point in my life. I don't generally add friends of friends or even people from my ward or from work that I don't really know well. Most of the blogs I read right now and comment on belong to friends that I do occasionally see in person. I get together with staff from Segullah in person whenever I can, and I try to go to conferences and things like the annual AML meeting. In a time when more and more of our discussion is taking place online, these kinds of conferences and casual get-togethers are even more important. They help us remember that we are dealing with real people, not just words on a screen. They remind us that the life of the mind is great and that virtual connection is valuable, but nothing is quite like the type of real-time discussion you can get with a group of people gathered around a table in one room.
When I started this post I wasn't sure where it was going to go. One of the reasons why I started blogging was to have an outlet for things like this. A chance to write something and post it for others to comment on, as well as a chance to reflect on my own thoughts by writing them down. This is why I love blogging. Besides, where else could an unemployed 50-year-old man living in his mom's basement spend eight years pretending to be a young LDS woman married to and then divorced from a gay man? (I'm kidding, don't worry)