on the false dichotomy between the real world and cyberspace

another thought that stuck with me from debbie millman’s interview with anil dash is about the false dichotomy between the real world and cyberspace. paraphrasing, anil said something along the lines of:

“i always balk at people who critique young folks for being on their phones all the time. for young people, phones are full of people they know and love; the outside world is what’s full of strangers.”

and that’s not to romanticize the internet and sms as perfectly safe places, but i do see his point. when you are newer to the world, and especially living in a strangely ageist society like america, going to the place where you know people makes sense. in fact, young people… well, all people actually, can mostly set the terms of engagement in digital spaces. this is infinitely more comfortable than existing in the world in which someone else has defined the system and rules.

now, what i’m not saying is that being connected to people digitally is a replacement for physical relationships. i’ve actually done a lot of thinking about what we lose out on when we’re moving around the world but absorbed by the world’s in our devices. most of it isn’t pretty. for many reasons, i think it’s really important that people learn how to relate in person as well as learning how to relate online. learning how to read people’s reactions and also interact with people across difference is critical to success in life. but what i think we have to not do is shame people for wanting to exist in mostly digital spaces when we’ve made non-digital spaces so hostile and not supported them to learn how to be in non-digital spaces.

it’s really no surprise people that people with low levels of social skills flock to online spaces in disproportionate amounts. but when we stigmatize them for that, we reinforce the notion that they should stay in those spaces instead of learning how be outside of them.

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