19 December, 2010

On /hugs

Have you ever had an online conversation with a friend when you realize that what they really need is a hug? Sure you have, if you spend any time online. People throw their sorrows out in public updates constantly. While some of them do it because they thrive on constant affirmation and attention, at least some of them, I'm convinced, do it because at that moment, they need a connection with another person. They need to know that someone outside of their brain gives a damn about what they're going through.

We all have a system for weeding out the former from the latter. How often does said friend make these statements? How does what I know about this friend's "real" life indicate to what degree this new crisis is just another in a long line of self-sabotage? And for me, the all important, "if we were in a room right now, how would our relationship dictate my behavior?"

If I would back away and let a "real" person deal with their catastrophe in the "real" world, why not do it online? I don't know. But I do know that a lot of the time I can't. I'm not a hugger IRL, but for some reason when an acquaintance on the internet indicates that they're having a rough time, this stupid response trickles out from my fingertips : /hug. And the crazy part? The person I've just clearly not hugged, whether due to geographical distance, emotional distance, or just my weird aversion to physical contact in certain social situations, often replies with, "Thanks. I feel better."

Do you? Do I? I don't know. Some people, usually the people I'd love to be able to hug more often, can /hug me and make my day. With some people it feels like a hypocritical, pro forma, but weirdly soothing display of fake empathy, like in a weird Victorian way the niceties have been observed and we can go back to what we were doing. Or maybe I'm a cynic. Maybe the internet really has brought us closer. Maybe we can say and do things online that we would be too afraid to do in real life, that we would back away from for fear of seeming to care too much, being too emotionally invested in someone that we like but don't know all that well.

Last night we watched Wall-E, so I'm blaming that for all this randomness. In case anyone is reading this who hasn't seen the movie, humanity has kind of retreated from itself. Hugely fat people float around on chairs, sipping breakfast from Big Gulp cups and only ever interacting via screens that float directly in their field of vision. I spend an embarrassing amount of time online, so the question has to be asked: Is that what I do? And more importantly, is that where we're headed?

Husband says not. He says there will always be people who need to do things, not just watch them happen. That people will always need "real" hugs. And I hope he's right. Just in case, /hugs to you all. For the record, though, I'd rather be able to actually hug you.

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