The Danger of Virtually Living

virtual living

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” – Annie Dillard

Virtually living. How many of us here are doing just that, I wonder. I’m going to share something a little personal with you today in my musings. But there is a point to it …

The other day, I was “on the road” for my job – the first time in several years that I was doing so. It’s something I love, and was excitedly looking forward to getting back to talk to “my people”. Oddest thing was, each time I sat down with someone, I found myself awkwardly groping for contact … and anyone who knows me, knows that has never been a problem. I felt very much “in a fog”. Why? What happened? What changed between then and now?

Driving home in the solitude of my car, and back to the quiet of my apartment, I searched for the answer. The next morning, as I flicked on my computer even before I started the coffee, I realized … I’d allowed myself to “live virtually”. Or rather, virtually live.

Over the last few years we have allowed our societal needs to become more and more fulfilled virtually … choosing not to interact person to person in the flesh, but rather on-line through a myriad of venues. We can come and go as we please, say what we choose (when we choose), and create a character that oftentimes bears little resemblance to the totality of who we are. Even if we feel we are being true in our portrayal and communications, I ask you this … if the people you are `friends’ with on-line were to move to your neighborhood, and want a flesh-and-blood relationship … would you welcome it? Or would a vague feeling of fear and uneasiness arise within? Would the sudden lack of control that a virtual friendship allows make you feel uncomfortable?

I see so many people here and at other sites on-line all day, communicating with a myriad of `friends’ … and yes, although the world-wide-web indeed offers us an amazing way to reach out and learn from others about different cultures, religions, traditions, and knowledge … it has also served as a cocoon, sheltering us from the many realities of real friendships and real relationships. A means to avoid dealing with difficulties, and making changes. It has given some an escape from the challenges found in a dysfunctional marriage, or a way of hiding from the fear of developing new relationships; to others, it’s a means to ignore the loneliness of isolation, and allowed another the illusion of popularity. The problem is … it is indeed, an illusion. An illusion as real as Alice Through the Looking Glass. It’s almost real. The impression is real … it feels real … but I wonder, just how tangible is it? Who of these virtual friends could I call if I needed a place to stay, a battery jump, a shopping buddy, or a night away from an aging parent … or simply a cup of sugar?

As for me, the awkwardness I felt yesterday served as a reminder that I need to spend a bit more time talking to the people down the street, meeting the post-holiday exercisers the gym, helping out the folks at the local shelter, and swapping stories with my clients. Living un-simulatedly.

22 thoughts on “The Danger of Virtually Living”

  1. This post resonates with me a lot at the moment for 2 reasons:

    1. My ‘real life’ friends never seem to answer the phone anymore, but straight away respond on facebook – what’s up with that?

    2. I’ve been building up online contacts with my own blog, but there is a big difference with interactions with people in the flesh to interactions through electronic media. For one thing you can check what you are saying before you send it and you can hide behind it.

    This is why I’m trying to spend more time offline as well!

    Nice post.

  2. Excellent post! I was living under my laptop for about three years, because that was the way I could both a. build a business and b. raise my daughter (who is now three). Online was just more practical and accessible. And I do love working from home, and interacting with my clients via telephone.

    Now that I have a bit more space and freedom, however, I go out of my way to connect with real flesh-and-blood people. I go to networking events and socialize more.

    Interestingly enough, a good friend I “met” via blogging is coming to town this week – and we’re both excited about hanging out in person!

    It’s all about striking a balance.

  3. I believe spending too much time in the virtual world will somehow affect our relationship skills in the real world. It is definitely recommended to constantly remind ourselves that facebook is not the only avenue available to us to make friends. :)

    Personal Development Blogger

  4. I agree, how many of your readers or people you interact with have you ever actually talked to in person? I have with a couple and those are definitely the connections that ‘feel’ the best to me. The other ones are far too virtual.

  5. As Toni mentioned above, this is truly a wake up call for us all. I find myself waking up and sitting in front of the PC having my coffee every morning. Perhaps it is time I start getting out, and meeting “real” people instead of, how you put it, living virtually.

    1. Thank you, Hannes, for your comment. I appreciate the time and consideration you took to write. It’s a beautiful world out there – filled with joy and laughter … as well as hard tears shed in the darkest of times … but it’s a world that needs the human touch that can only come face-to-face and hand-to-hand. We are like matches … there is heat, and energy, and light to each of us. That flame can die – go out – if it’s not brought together with other “matches”. But think of the warmth that comes from a bonfire! And that can only happen when millions of little matches join together, bringing their individual energy together. Yes, we need quiet time, but we also need to be a part of the whole.

      Many blessings to you, Hannes.

      with love & gratitude always …
      R. Catherine Smith

  6. I loved this post. Of course the author and I have been friends since way back when.
    She emailed me to let me know of this blog.
    I loved it girlriend! Great writing! Keep up the great work!


  7. How true, how true!

    I’m a Canadian living in Spain. I spend my days building up my English-language business, which means spending the day online. My partner makes all the arrangements for our social life because he’s Spanish and so it’s just much easier for him to talk to people and make the plans.

    But then when I’m out with him and our friends, I’m suddenly very shy. Part of it’s language – I’m still not confident in Spanish in more than a one-on-one situation. Part of it’s cultural – I’m a quiet person and don’t do the “whoever speaks most loudly gets to talk” thing. But part of it’s that I’m not talking to people virtually, with a time delay to consider my responses.

    This weekend we’re going to visit friends, so I will definitely make an effort to be more present and connect directly with the whole group.


  8. I’ll get in line with everyone else. I will sit at home and E-mail with friends and check news and information every day. Yet I have noticed that every time I go out and attend an event in real life I find it immensely enjoyable and usually meet some great new people. Then I go back and spend a few more weeks on my computer without any real interaction.
    Maybe I am in a rut. I know Catherine makes some great points. I’ll have to E-mail my friends and see what they say.

  9. This is a very good question – would we want to interact in person with the people we’ve met on line? Especially in the age of Twitter, MySpace, Facebook and other social media applications.

    I do spend a lot of time in front of a computer because it’s the nature of my work at home. I feel as I know a lot of people but like I’m friends with you Peter, I’ve never met you. Does that mean we’re friends? Or cyber friends?

    Very interesting point. This is why I make a point of joining organizations like “Toastmasters” and being an active member of my church to get me out and mingling with people. I’ve also gone to networking meetings and that’s helped as well.

    Truth be told, we need human contact but thanks to the Internet, a massive shift has occurred and more people seem to be drifting further away because the computer makes it that much easier to do so.

    Very thought provoking. Hmmmm……….

  10. Simulated Life. Wow, I can relate and honestly I never set back and paid it any mind. It just seemed “normal”. I also share sentiments with Chris (from Lifestyle Project) I too barely get a phone call or one answered from my friends and distant relatives but let me email, IM or Facebook them and I get a page full of “catch up”, lol.

    Actually, I forgot where to go to mingle in real life as well. Its so easy to type a URL and voila the “interaction” begans as opposed to gassing up, peddling or taking a walk to find some real life social interaction. OK, that’ll be my New Years resolution… for every blog post I create I will spend an hour at a social event, coffee shop, book store hell even a night club, lol. Wow, I’m living a Simulated Life…

  11. Catherine,

    Thank you for this thought-provoking article. Like many of the other people who left comments, this article struck a chord with me. I spend a lot of time online interacting with people who I’m never met in the flesh. Yes, I do consider many of these people to be friends, but it is certainly a different type of friendship than with people I have physically met.

    The “virtual life” is new and exciting, but I think each of us must be on guard so that it does not replace our “real life” . Thanks again for the great article.


  12. I am honored to have my virtual friends. They arrived when I least expected to find to them. And am also honor to have my face-to-face friends, the personal interactions, the real laugh out loud moments, and the in-person connections. Due to real world routines and busy schedules I don’t get to see and talk to all of my offline friends as often as I hear from my online friends. Yet finding the time to be w/ my offline friends is priceless.

  13. A timely article with the Christmas season coming up. It’s important to get other there and meet with people. Communication and relationship over the internet are fine, but we also need flesh and blood contact. Otherwise, there is a tendancy to get stale and loose interest.

  14. After reading this entry and commentary, it has become apparent that our life in cyberspace, mostly secluded in anonymity, can be as consuming as any other pleasure. BALANCE…. this is always the answer that keeps pleasure from becoming a vice.
    Personally, I have fishing buddies, canoe and kayak partners, friends to play music with and occasionally folks to tie one on with. Yet, at the same time the people that I have reached out to, by using our written language (virtual pen pals), has added a new dimension to an already gregarious lifestyle. Even more surprising; this virtual experience has triggered connections within myself, with an understanding, that I find revealing, inspiring and above all fun.
    It’s important to remember that beyond the face of our computer screens are real people with their individual intellects and feelings.
    At the same time I agree with Catherine. Approach this new medium with caution.

  15. Your post made me take a closer look at my virtual v.s. real life and admit that my virtual life dominates. I’ve even begun to judge new friendships by whether or not they are Internet savvy and communicate by email.

    I love my virtual life because it’s available 24-7 with friends from around the world. But to keep from getting hopelessly trapped in this world, I do venture out to for lunch, have small dinner parties, go to the theater, attend church and travel.

    I’m happy to report that virtual contacts can become real contacts. Some friends I’ve met first on the Internet have become real, get-together-in-person friends. If some of them moved into my neighborhood I have no doubt that we’d continue to be friends.

  16. Great blog !! I liked the way described it !! It has become very relevant to the current scenario of the world. I feel that relationships are stronger only when you meet someone face-to-face. I believe that Virtual world is just a tool to keep in touch with distant contacts. Close friends are better off talking rather than communicating through social communities :)

    But seriously, your note just helped me realize the facts better !!

  17. I must say that this blog definitely comes at a time where I needed to read it most. I am currently in the process of healing after a disasterous fight with my “virtual” significant other. I have been in a severe depression for over a week due to the damage it has caused to my self-esteem and my trust in others. The other facet to this is that I am married with children in my “real life.” This online relationship, I am finally seeing, has affected my relationships with family and friends to a point that I was rarely taking time OUT of my virtual environment–the game Second Life–to interract with flesh-and-blood people. I have been immersed in a fantasy world for over a year now, and although the love and emotions I had (and still have) for this man are real, I have come to realize that they are also very dangerous. While it is difficult to truly trust someone 100% that you have only met in the confines of the computer, it is equally as difficult (if not more so) when that person betrays that trust. I found myself fantasizing of a chance meeting, pushing my wonderful and REAL family away for a life that I felt in a way was real, just in virtual form.

    I am still hurting, still healing from the pain that has been inflicted and still is to some extent. It is difficult if not impossible to know what truly lies behind sweet words whispered over the wires. The problem I see now is that you cannot truly get a grasp on how a person is thinking or feeling simply through chat (in this case, both text and voice) and pixellated contact. The flesh to flesh, face to face indicators of emotion are absent from the scenario, and in my case have left me in the dark as to his true feelings and intentions. How can one love and trust in that other individual that they in turn love them equally without this? As I am experiencing now, it is impossible.

    Likewise, an emotional affair is more dangerous than a physically-based one in that it centers wholly on WHO WE ARE. It changes us because our emotions and mindsets are constantly morphing into what we want the other person to perceive us to be…not who we truly are. And, in the process, we become strangers–unrecognizable to the people in our physical world.

    To the author of this blog–thank you so much for posting. In reading, I have gained some insight into the matter I am currently experiencing. The first step is to distance myself from the virtual world (ie. Second Life) and to find my true, flesh-and-blood self that has somehow been lost in all of this. I just may come to realize in the days ahead that my online relationship is/was just what I knew in my heart at the beginning it was–a fantasy.


  18. I had a great relationship with someone but their virtual/emotional online affairs with other people changed all that. It broke our trust and irreparably damaged our relationship. I found I was waking up to a person I didn’t really know anymore and it was really hard to get across that new, virtual bridge, despite all of the real bridges we had crossed together in real life. We tried to work things out but the more we talked about changes, the more of these ‘virtual people’ that kept surfacing and re-surfacing. One day I woke up and realized how lonely and alone I’d been all throughout their online fantasy-filled days and realized I just didn’t love this person anymore, didn’t want to make myself available for that sort of hurt/devastation anymore and that it was time to move on. For people who want to wade into these dangerous waters, I say fine, but remember that your partner isn’t static – they’re very real and they hurt and you can’t just shut them off like you do your tablet or laptop. One day you’ll wake up out of your fantasy world and realize they’ve been changing and going on with their lives without you in it, and/or worse, that someone else as well very real has entered their lives in your absence.

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