The Social Geek

There’s this stereotype about geeks how they prefer to sit in a dark basement lit only by flickering computer screens and they are always playing some online game or chatting with friends they’ve never met. You’ve heard about it and maybe you have done it yourself, maybe you abhor the picture and maybe you’re happy that at least online somebody talks to you. I have long known a lot of my RL friends to disdain online relationships, so Daniel’s rant doesn’t come as a surprise. I just wonder wether he was inspired by my post about how I finally managed to get my daily information feed under control 😉

If you search google for online relationships, there are a lot of interesting posts coming up, so Daniel and I are not the only people thinking about this. I remember very distinctly someobdy argueing quite the opposite stance of Daniel’s just a couple days ago.

I’ve had my personal experience with online relationships through chatrooms, online games and I am still reading blogs like terranova about online gaming, online worlds and social networking tools. I cannot wait for world of warcraft to be published out finally. I really enjoy online gaming but there’s this “but” that keeps bugging me.

My experience with online relationships has not been completely positive but it wasn’t all bad either. Take the few months where I was playing Ultima Online. I just wanted to try it out and was taken aback at how hard it was to get started with the game. I was quite happy when somebody in the game started helping me and introducing me to people (which is what an rpg is all about after all, let’s ignore the fact that uo&co are rarely used as rpgs). Quickly I started spending more time gaming and as is the usual run with games, I couldn’t quit when I should. I would be late for RL stuff or not even go anywhere. My friends started being annoyed and they said so. So I played less. Now the players in the game were annoyed because I wasn’t playing. Of course when it turned to an either-or decision I quit playing ultima. Some time later I started playing diablo2 online. Again I met some people in the game. For a while playing with them was fun. But then they started asking “why I wasn’t there last night” and I stayed in the game but played for myself or with RL friends.

For me the fun of online gaming ceases when I have to game alone and since nobody I know would keep playing, I quit as well.

Those were two negative experiences. On the other hand: blogs, wikis and IM let’s me stay in contact with friends who moved away. Often an online relationship is an extension of a real-life relationship. To me it’s all about “resources” and “communication”.

For another example I am loosely following a blogging community of female researchers in “tech”[1]. Those women are colleagues or friends who met online and maybe have met at conferences as well by now. I am not really part of that community so I might be wrong. The community can online exist online. Most of the relationships between members are solely online. Yet I believe that everyone involved considers this community a very valuable addition to their “social network”[2]. You can ask questions there, you can listen to opinions … as I said resources and communication.

So I am argueing that online relationships aren’t only a matter of the typical geek anymore. Many different groups of people have different types of online relationships in addition (most often) to their real life relationships. Of course there is danger involved and care must be taken to not “overdo” it or let yourself be eaten up by those “un-real” friends, however I cannot condemn the general idea.

fn1. I am counting not only the posters at misbehaving into that community but also those who comment or are blog-rolled (as am I), there is a huge variety of topics they are into, just about everything considered tech would be present there.

fn2. Women in Tech aren’t as rare as some might think, but they are still rare enough that I value these blogs very much as an additional resource of information.