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By Zack Budryk
“The Internet is the most important single development in the history of human communication since the invention of call waiting.”
My senior year of high school, I was waiting for the bus home when I noticed a girl I’d never really spoken to reading Bob Woodward’s State of Denial. I knew her by sight; she was a freshman in the same specialty program I was going to graduate that spring. I was impressed by her choice of reading material, and I told her so. We chatted now and then for the rest of the year after that, but it wasn’t until the summer I graduated that we added each other on Facebook (this was before Peak Facebook) and began talking to each other on there whenever we had the chance.
Over the next four or five years, I came to think of her as a little sister, to the point that I still refer to her as such when I’m talking to anyone who doesn’t know her, simply because it’s easier to explain than the aforementioned. In fall 2012, she was serving as a groomswoman at my wedding, and one of the bridesmaids asked how long she and I had known each other. I gave the date of the Woodward conversation, but my sister corrected me and gave the time we’d begun talking to each other online. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but that was a hell of a thing: an acknowledgment that a close, intimate friendship had consisted of about 90 percent online communication.
Face-to-face communication has always been a problem for me. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s a symptom of my Asperger’s syndrome and what’s generic nervousness, but the naturally un-plannable nature of casual conversation intimidates me. I rehearse the vast majority of my interaction with people. Online communication is another matter; it’s still impossible to definitively plan both sides of a conversation, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to collect my thoughts in a text box than in front of someone who’s listening to every stutter and false start to a sentence. I see evidence of what being able to communicate online has done for me on a daily basis. I work with a lot of amazing, funny, interesting people and I was able to develop off-the-clock relationships with them largely because we have online spaces where I can suss out common interests and values and generally speak without fear of coming off as the office weirdo. (I’m assuming that’s a thing—this is my first office job).
That’s why it’s always vaguely upsetting to hear people disparage the prevalence of online communication as though it’s somehow less than face-to-face communication, and somehow a sign of us losing our human connection. This is generally something older people who also think that it should be called CRAP music say, but not exclusively; last year I was extremely disappointed when one of my heroes, riot-grrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, told the Huffington Post, “We just don't know how to connect in a way that's actually beautiful and present…[e]veryone's on their computer phones and what-not, and it's more of not being here." It was a remarkably shortsighted perspective, I thought, especially coming from an icon of nonconformity, this idea that only the most basic, neurotypical-favoring forms of communication could be “beautiful.”
This attitude, half-Luddite and half-hipster, is sort of an exercise in neurotypical privilege. “Back in the day, just talking to each other face to face was good enough for us!” they’ll say. Well, no, it was good enough for some of you. Others of us sat alone at lunch and hoped to God we’d have a class with one of the handful of people we weren’t too nervous to talk to and spent ten minutes psyching ourselves up to call a friend just to chat, before eventually deciding against it because the prospect of being told we were interrupting was too mortifying to risk.
As is usually the case, I can only speak for myself, but being able to communicate online hasn’t ruined me for real-life relationships; it’s made me the best at them I’ve ever been. When you started at the top of the hill, it’s easy to disparage how someone else climbs, but you should stop to consider that maybe they’re not climbing it for you.
#StateOfDenial #HighSchool #Books #Reading #Communication #Friendships #Neurotypical #Privilege
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