How are on-line (virtual) relationships (email, chat, MySpace, etc.) different from real-life relationships? How are they different from the imaginary relationship one might have with characters in a Soap Opera or Film? All relationships, imaginary or real, affect our thinking and our behavior. They are a critical part of not just fulfilling our human needs, but a key element for us to grow and thrive.
But is there really a difference between e-mail / chat relationships and in-person relationships? Isn't it really all the same thing? Would you really put TV-watching within the same realm as human relationships? I think there are some important distinctions to be made.
Those imaginary relationships of TV, film,
novels...well they do shape our thinking and influence us in the same way that real relationships do...but they
are far less influencial than the universe that
can be created between two people. Relationships between real people have the element of interaction. Interactive relationships are simply more real and carry a range of added dimensions: loyalty, sensitivity, complexity, attraction, and real consequences...whereas imaginary ones are kept neat and artificially simple...lacking these elements.
Relationships we have with real people (in person or virtual) are healthier because they are authentic and exist outside of corporate / media influence. These relationships allow us to grow and change. Oftentimes, society tends to frown on (or at least fail to encourage) these relationships because today's society is controlled primarily by corporations and religions -- both institutions fighting for our attention and loyalty. When, instead, our attention, loyalty, and energy goes directly to other human beings, the influence which these institutions have on our lives is weakened...so their incentive to guide us away from authentic relationships is clear.
Institutional relationships (such as those one might have with religions, brands, TV characters, etc.) leave us weak, undeveloped, and unfulfilled. Those who depend upon such relationships tend to look to prayer, shopping, soap operas, or pornography to fulfill deeper needs which remain unmet. So why can't we simply awknowlage this and decide that it is ok to have deep, authentic, one-to-one relationships instead? Unfortunately, those around us...loved ones, family, acquantances...unknowingly judge us by the rule laid down by the institutions. When we fail to follow these socially-accaptable rules, we are punished. Unfortunately, there is little room for, and also not much time for, many deep, authentic relationships in our lives.
It should also be noted that virtual relationships are sometimes destructive and oftentimes addictive (probably like anything that makes us feel alive). All addictions have consequences...making everything else around us dull and encouraging us to neglect the people and things right in front of us, in our real lives.
So, in the end, the choice whether to develop virtual relationships comes down to a personal choice. All choices involve consequences, and I suppose it is the likely consequences of a situation, within the context of an individuals real life, that should be weighed.