An Experiment of One…Hundred Thousand

I am a social media experiment. No, Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t plastered electrodes to my head to test my brainwaves while I look at adorable, spelling-deficient baby animals on Facebook, although his calls are getting more insistent and frankly, a little disturbing. I think somewhere in the depths of his underground California lair, he’s training newborn badgers to sing Justin Bieber tunes. But I could be wrong. Since I read it on Wikipedia.

No, every two years, someone from the USC Center for the Digital Future at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism inquires about my Internet behavior. This started about fifteen years ago, when a polite young man called asking for my help with a school project. Yeah, I know. It always starts that way. Then you end up in an embarrassing video on YouTube. But eager to lend a hand to educate the youth of America, and as a former advertising major sympathetic to those whose semester grades hinge on cold-calling people about their favorite brand of mayonnaise (I had to do this once), I fielded his questions. Yes, I have access to the Internet. No, we have just the one computer, the one phone line with its dial-up modem, and the many arguments about who is doing what on it when. Do I “know” anyone online I’ve never met in person? One or two people, but it’s sort of intriguing, like a blind date that never happens. Then they sent me a check for ten bucks.

I still get ten bucks a pop, which now that I’m an indie author, I blow on silly things like food. Although the questions have changed slightly over the years, and I now fill out an online survey instead of answering a call, the intent is the same: to measure the impact the Internet is having on peoples’ lives. In the past fifteen years, Husband and I have accumulated more devices that can access the Internet. A cable connection and two Macs reduced the arguments. Gone are the daily newspapers and most of the print magazines; we listen to radio stations through our computers. Both of us working from home means many Internet hours logged.

But the people? YOU people? Halle-freakin’-luiah. Normally an introvert with a history of isolation, I now have friends at other the end of my keyboard. Lots and lots of friends. Where previously I could have easily rattled off the names of my Web buds for the USC undergrads, the quantity of my online colleagues, friends, and acquaintances has grown from “countable on both hands and feet” to “a couple dozen,” to “are you kidding me?”

And I LOVE it! Well, most of the time. You guys are pretty cool. I love your support and knowledge and jokes and friendship; I love that any time of the day or night I can go online and “reach out and touch someone” anywhere in the world.

But I just completed this year’s survey, and it gave me pause. In particular, one of the questions: Has your participation in online communities decreased your involvement with offline communities?

Uh…yeah. To an embarrassing degree. Sure, I tried to rationalize the heck out of having so many virtual friends and communities. But I’m a writer! I plant my butt in a chair and draw support and companionship from other writers, with their butts planted in their chairs!

Although I love my online communities, I think I’ve forgotten about balance. I want to fix that. Oh, I don’t plan on going the full Hemingway or anything. No running with bulls or signing on with mercenaries or piloting riverboats. I just don’t want to wait for a power failure or a life-changing event to see my neighbors. Maybe I’ll take the ten bucks from this year’s survey and have an experience. Outside. Then I’ll put it on Facebook, in between photos of Mark’s Bieberwauling badgers.

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Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She is the author of two novels, The Joke’s on Me and Drawing Breath. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley with her very patient husband, Paul Blumstein, a commercial illustrator. Learn more about Laurie at and her Amazon author page.

Author: Laurie Boris

Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley. Learn more about Laurie at her website and her Amazon author page.

16 thoughts on “An Experiment of One…Hundred Thousand”

  1. Such a great article, and true for me as well as far as the introvert/friends/balance thing. Nice reminder that I should spend some time with people who aren't on the other side of the keyboard. 🙂

  2. It's probably not a good sign that last weekend when RL friends suggested getting together, I weighed the time away from the intarwebz before agreeing to come…. Say, where are you seeing those Bieberwauling badgers? Got a link?

  3. Oh but it is so true. Especially since college ended for my last year and most of my very best friends move away. During college, I wasn't online nearly as much. Nowadays, between writing, book marketing and keeping up with my very friends, I am online lots and that is where most of my socialization is. It would be nice to get out more and you are right- we could all use a little more outside time. lol. Great article.

    1. Thank you, Lavinia. This also hit home a couple weeks ago when I was at a neighbor's wedding, and I did a casual head-count of how many were Facebook friends. I could walk fifty feet to have a conversation. And yet, here I am… 😉

      1. -laughs- my neighbour /is/ on Facebook but we connect because we're both interested in creative things. Most 'real' people I meet go into a blank-faced trance the instant I say anything about writing or publishing or technology or…

        We just aren't speaking the same language. I suppose I could go out looking for like-minded people in the real world but it really would be like looking for that proverbial needle. Life is too short.

  4. Wow, we are really a lot alike. I don't mean you and me, but you and all of us.

    My Mom was visiting this week and she just told me that she refuses to use email.

    "But, why?" I asked. Her response… she refuses to communicate in a way that takes away from actual talking. Hmmm, but we never talk … so wouldn't email be better than not communicating?

    I communicate more through the internet than I ever did over the phone with my college roommates and such. Don't get me wrong, I love to get out, but what is the second thing you always ask when you meet someone? … Are you on Facebook? (sorry for the mini blog post just now.)

    1. So true, Jim. My thing is banks. The after-hours ATM is one thing, but I refuse to go to one of their new "virtual" teller machines. If I'm making the effort to get off my duff, get into the car, and drive to the bank, I want to talk to a person.

  5. Sounds vaguely familiar to me too (: Great article! Though not one I'm about to share with my flesh and blood friends who've been complaining about my recent leaning toward virtual relationships. The phone is ringing as I write this. I'm ignoring it. Might be a real voice.

  6. I'm of two minds when it comes to this. On the one hand, making new friends past the age of 8 appears to be quite difficult and I'd never think to ring up my second cousins just to see how they're doing. Thanks to Facebook, I can literally see how they're doing. But on the other hand, the internet has become the perfect enabler for my agoraphobia. I do get out occasionally and when I do, I'm sort of impressed that I haven't turned into "Nell" yet. So, that's good. You're right: it's about balance.

  7. Ouch. This post struck a whole conduit's worth of cords. I've always liked people and have a small group of very close friends who have been with me for… 30 years?… but now I only see them once every few…months 🙁

    I love the stimulation of online friends who all talk my language but maybe it's time this hermit put on some decent clothes and went outside for a while.:(

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