Here I sit. On another flight. Writing another blog entry. It almost makes me wonder if there is a connection for me between altitude and being contemplative. In my first entry, I made note that I tend to be more of an introvert on planes and focus on whatever I’ve brought onboard to read, watch, or work on. I think there is another element here as well: on a plane, I’m unplugged. I’m not on the phone and I’m almost never online (as wonderful as that may be).
Today, for me and many others, the digital world is an extension of who we are. I work out of my house and travel but rarely go to an office. I happen to be very good at conveying ideas in person which makes me good at my job, but that’s just part of the time. By definition, when I work with others there’s electronic communication involved. I also bump into friends once or twice during the week or on weekends. That’s physically. I’m on social media, instant messaging, or texting with them every day. My family life is obviously where I actually talk to people face to face the most. And still, my wife and I rely on texting and phone calls a lot.
This reliance on digital interaction with others means that my digital self isn’t necessarily just a reflection of who I am. For many people, it’s precisely who I am. My values, priorities, intellect, and outlook on life are digested by others based on what I do without eye contact, body language, intonation, or other personal context. This is also how I judge others in many cases. A person’s responsiveness or answers tell me what I need to know about them as a person.
At the same time, electronic communications can be liberating. Without the context of a person standing in front of you, it can be easier to do something that you think would be out of character. Many people are more apt to make a snide comment or go on a rant if it’s impersonalized to the point of being text. It’s similar to flipping someone off in traffic while you’re doing 80mph. The difference here is that, most often, you’re interacting with people on an ongoing basis rather than just blowing by them. The impression persists with your electronic identity.
Electronic media can also help you do things that you perceive are entirely in character. Sending a friend a birthday message or complimenting them on Facebook or in an email are easier than going out and buying a card. Asking for advice from people you know online is less traumatic than asking for directions when you’re lost. Sharing your inner thoughts via a blog is more freeing than trying to have a deep conversation when there’s never the time and there could be some awkwardness. Going into dialog afterwards is facilitated by online collaboration.
As a result of this trend, what you do online isn’t what is in or out of character. It is your character. It seems that I come across fewer Internet trolls these days. That may be because I’ve tuned them out or it may be because everyone tunes them out and they’ve largely gone away. After some talk with my wife (in person, over breakfast), I think it’s that I tune it out and choose not to visit sites where it’s prevalent. There’s certainly cyber-bullying in the news these days. More likely, I just don’t have much to do with people that have pervasive agendas and are abusive. That’s consistent between my digital and live personas. I’ve learned a lot about many people which I never would have just based on infrequent conversations. I’ve also shared more of myself than I generally would even have time or inclination to do in person.
This entry isn’t much of a debate or deep insight. It’s more a note that old paradigms and behaviors are changing. It used to be that actions spoke louder than words. Today, many of those actions actually are words. Be aware of them and that those words tell the rest of the world who and what you are.