By THEODORA STITES The New York Times
I'm 24 years old, have a good job, friends. But like many of my generation, I consistently trade actual human contact for the more reliable emotional high of smiles on MySpace, winks on Match.com and pokes on Facebook. I live for Friendster views, profile comments and the Dodgeball messages that clog my cellphone every night.
I prefer, in short, a world cloaked in virtual intimacy. It may be electronic, but it is intimacy nevertheless. Besides, eye contact isn't all it's cracked up to be and facial expressions can be so hard to control. My life goes like this: Every morning, before I brush my teeth, I sign in to my Instant Messenger to let everyone know I'm awake. I check for new e-mail, messages or views, bulletins, invitations, friend requests, comments on my blog or mentions of me or my blog on my friends' blogs.
Next I flip open my phone and check for last night's Dodgeball messages. Dodgeball is the most intimate and invasive network I belong to. It links my online community to my cellphone, so when I send a text message to 36343 (Dodge), the program pings out a message with my location to all the people in my Dodgeball network. Acceptance into another person's Dodgeball network is a very personal way to say you want to hang out.
I scroll through the messages to see where my friends went last night, and when, tracking their progress through various bars and noting the crossed paths. I check the Google map that displays their locations and proximity to one another. I note how close Christopher and Tom were last night, only a block away, but see that they never met up.
I log on to my Friendster, Facebook, MySpace and Nerve accounts to make sure the mail bars are rising with new friend requests, messages and testimonials.
I am obsessed with testimonials and solicit them incessantly. They are the ultimate social currency, public declarations of the intimacy status of a relationship. "I miss running around like crazy w/you in the AM and sneaking away to grab caffeine and gossip," Kathleen commented on my MySpace for all to see. Often someone will write, "I just posted to say I love you."
I click through the profiles of my friends to the profiles of their friends (and their friends of friends, and so on), always aware of the little bar at the top of each profile indicating my multiple connections. A girl I know from college is friends with my friend from college's best friend from Minnesota. They met at camp in seventh grade. The boyfriend of my friend from work is friends with one of my friends from high school. I note the connections and remind myself to IM them later. On Facebook, I skip from profile to profile by clicking on the faces of posted pictures. I find a picture of my sister and her boyfriend, click on his face and jump right to his page.
Pictures are extremely necessary for enticing new friends -- the more pictures the better. I change my pictures at least once a week.
There are hidden social codes in every image. Shadows and prominent eyes: not confident about their looks. Far away and seated in beautiful scenery: want you to know they're adventurous. Half in the picture: good looking but want you to know they're artistic, too.
Every profile is a carefully planned media campaign. I click on the Friendster "Who's Viewed Me" tab to see who has stumbled upon my profile recently, and if people I don't know have checked me out, I immediately check them back. I get an adrenaline rush when I find out that a friend of a friend I was always interested in is evidentially interested in me, too.
Just imagine if we could be this good in person. Online, everyone has bulletproof social armor.