Online Sociability: Yahoo! Chat to Facebook

Sitting in my living room last night with the television off (a rare occurrence for me, who usually needs background noise..) and I started thinking about my time online over the years. While I was a stay at home mom, I started chatting in 1994 in the Yahoo chat rooms. Sorted by topic, the rooms were filled with regular users and sporadic new ‘faces’ who would lurk until they felt comfortable enough to jump into the conversation – of course, this goes on much the same way these days, except at the time, there were less online spaces where one could go and just hang out with a group of friends. I spent a lot of time in those rooms, and over the course of a few years, made a pretty solid group of friends around a few topics, and even met a few people face to face. I remember feeling sad when I went back to work and didn’t have as much time as I used to to chat. I remember logging in and entering one of my old favorite rooms only to realize that I don’t recognize anyone and they didn’t recognize me.  Over time, I stopped logging in completely, forgetting about most of the users I used to consider close confidants (of course, to this day, there are a few names that stick out in my memory). Leaving the Yahoo! Groups was hard, perhaps more sad, but what made it easier was that there was no traces left behind to go back to and reminisce over. Of course, there are still chat rooms all over the internet that I could join, meet new people, and perhaps recapture this feeling, but somehow it just doesn’t feel the same.

What I like about Facebook is the way that it archives all those interactions. Yet at the same time, it makes me a bit uneasy too. I like being able to go back further and further and reading what people were on about on any particular day, yet the memories are weaker. The archives are not of interactions between myself and my ‘friends’, but of individual actions collected through the guise of  ‘friends’. Instead of logging in and running into a random group of friends for a limited amount of time, it is always the same people in the same place at different times – whenever I want, I can log in and read about my friends. I miss the synchronicity of chat rooms, but I like the ability to ‘check up’ on friends even when I don’t feel sociable. It’s a weird feeling really. To think that my online time has shifted over the years from a very interactive form of social interaction to a more singular sense of sociability – where I can be among friends without having to interact (directly) with them. Of course, this is not the only means of online interaction, but it is what my use has become. Instead of logging in every morning to a list of different rooms, catching up with people and talking about our day, I log in every morning and read my friends’ blogs, check their Facebook pages and poke in on twitter to see who is saying what – all the while, being removed from anyone knowing I was there. While I am keeping ‘in touch’ with more people, my online interaction has seen a dramatic shift from incredibly social to incredibly solitary.

This got me thinking (again) about the archiving of online interactions. Of course my old chat days were logged, I think one of the things that made it easier to walk away from was that the community was always changing. That the people never stayed the same, and over time, the chat rooms morphed into a new group of people with new stories. With Facebook, it is different in that it is always the same people on my friends list. While some may be more active than others (and FB sorts my friends’ activities in ways that make me think that only 20 of the 300+ friends actually update their statuses & pages). But since the activity is archived, I can dig back and back and feel like I am not alone even when no one is “online”.

Of course, I am rambling – but it seems that the more “social” outlets I have, the less social I feel.



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