June 12, 2010

The Formspring Effect

It's funny, because this is a topic that's been floating around in my mind for years. This whole principle of opening up to the internet, something I have been incredibly guilty of myself and something that has never been better represented than by the website Formspring (http://www.formspring.me). So what is this website all about? Why has it become massively popular? I think I definitely have the answer.

People love spilling their secrets. They love being interviewed. Love answering questions. Love showing what they are thinking to others, being interesting in that regard. Formspring. Postsecret. Questionnaires. Lists of items where you bold every one you have done before. You all know exactly what I'm talking about. Most of you are guilty of one of these. I know I am.

So why do we come out so openly on the internet? Inhibitions, self-consciousness, social anxiety... These are issues ALL of us deal with. Most people can't look someone in the eye and say "Yes, I lost my virginity. Yes, I smoke pot. Yes, I do things that are socially unacceptable." And yet, when we are just typing our deepest and darkest secrets into a computer, or pasting them to a postcard and mailing them away, it's so easy! We aren't considering the reactions of people reading, the faces they make, the thoughts they think.. It's like closing your eyes before downing that disgusting cough syrup. This can be very good, and very bad.

We'll start with the bad. What is the Formspring Effect doing to us? Well, perhaps more than anything, my generation isn't learning to be social. We aren't learning how to look each other in the eyes, how to be open, how to connect with each other. We all know more about each other than ever before, but all that knowledge seems to inhabit some different layer than the one we interact with each other on. The quiet, severely introverted wallflower finds this great way to express himself and get his mind and his heart out to others, but it takes him seven freaking years to learn how to look a friend in the face and tell them how he feels. He can post to Livejournal, Xanga, Myspace, Facebook, Blogger, etc. telling everyone he knows that his heart is truly mourning over events in his life, but he becomes complacent and never conquers his inability to go to lunch with someone and talk to them about that pain.

God forbid anyone know who I'm talking about right now.

And yes, I used to always be terrified when someone came up to me in person and wanted to talk to me about my blog posts.

So what about the good? Well, I think this whole development is very interesting. In the same way many people use it as a crutch to avoid social development, others seem to find it as a springboard. Answering these questions about their thoughts and their hearts helps build those neural connections, gets them analyzing themselves sooner. Heck, I swear the next generation is becoming mature faster than mine did, because they are being given so many ways to express themselves. And I remember very vividly that expressing myself lead to me realizing there was something to express, which lead to self-discovery, which lead to who I am now. Kids are trying to answer some very difficult questions about themselves sooner. And maybe, just MAYBE, they are finding the answers sooner than we ever hoped to.

This story is definitely not over. I'm pretty interested to see how social networking affects the world as we know it. The dynamics of our relationships are being drastically altered by the internet, and that's kind of cool. But do yourself a favor- find a good friend, look them in the eye, and tell them how you feel. Don't get stuck venting your feelings through one way glass.

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