Ping! My computer chirps as an Instant Message is immediately sent to the brightly colored screen on the other end of the conversation. Ding!: message received. Back and forth for hours; mindless, never-ending conversation causing our brains to turn to mush by the second. Click: my return key hits the shallow end and causes a rippling effect throughout my motherboard: perhaps I hit that key a bit too hard... Frighteningly large letters in a bold, dark green, flowing font bark back at me. I've aggravated her -- and I have no idea what I did wrong.
"We need to talk. Tomorrow at school. I'll meet you in front of the Quad," I ping.
"NO! WE'RE GOING TO DISCUSS THIS RIGHT HERE. RIGHT NOW!!" she barks back.
"I need to explain myself. You need to hear me say this," I send, lowering my volume as if her capitalized letters were actually going to yell at me.
"NO! WE CAN DO THIS RIGHT HERE! LET'S HEAR IT!" she bellows, causing her motherboard to shake and her screen to crack.
Mary, a very innocent girl, was never one to yell. She was a shy and timid girl that kept to herself most of the time (especially in times of confrontation) -- except when it came to me, her best friend. I know her better than anyone, but not even I could have expected the happenings that occurred that very next second...
"LET'S HEAR IT! YOU WIMP!! SAY IT NOW OR... OR I'LL... OR I'LL NEVER BE YOUR FRIEND AGAIN!!!"
I was in shock. My best friend doesn't possess the kind of courage it requires to say something like that -- let alone go through with it. Apparently, and as unfortunate as it is, Mary chooses to live in a virtual environment compared to a live one. She finds courage in the ability to speak her mind without watching someone's face change (due to his/her reaction) right before her wide, gaping eyes. It's easier for her; it's like a Staples® Easy Button™: it's just that easy. But for many other people, including myself, it often makes situations much more difficult and impossible to live through. It might provide her with courage, but it forces me to question whether or not I truly know my best friend. So while she escapes the face-to-face reactions, the peer pressure, the fear of having people stare straight at her while they wait for her response, and the old nauseating feeling of weakness -- she will also cause people to question her true personality and ask the question: in what world is she truly being herself?
I practically begged her for it -- I really wanted her to wait to talk to me in person; I knew it would be for the best. Personally, online conversations are well-and-dandy, but when an argument is in its midst -- it's better to make sure you're getting your point across, which, apparently, can only be done when having a face-to-face conversation. I needed her to hear my voice. I needed her to hear when I was being serious or when I was making a joke. I needed to see what she was thinking through her sea-blue eyes. I needed to be able to place my hand on her shoulder and make sure she wasn't hiding behind her virtual-reality identity. I needed the physical contact, and I needed her to understand.
It took me awhile to realize this, but Mary's virtual identity wasn't just based off of the fact that she gained more courage. Granted, this did have a very large impact on basically everything and anything she said -- but it wasn't the only reason for the way she behaved. Without the pressure of Rob, Bob, or Snob (names never stuck with me -- and I couldn't care less) staring down her throat waiting for her to make a complete idiot out of herself, she found herself able to come up with just about anything. She could think clearly and be just as much a jerk to them as they were to her. But, as many people tend to say, it's hard to stop once you've started. It's true that when in person, you get tongue-tied when people are waiting for your comeback or response, but these situations just provide you with the knowledge of who you are truly comfortable with. Because in reality, you will be able to say just about anything you want to or need to with the person you feel comfortable with. So who cares if you can come up with the "perfect" insult for that bully or complete stranger? The truth is, no one cares -- unless you do.
On the other hand, the visual peer pressure isn't the only factor that is contributing to her behavior in her virtual world: time in general also plays a part. In person, while Rob, Bob, or Snob is staring down your esophagus, you are generally tripping and stumbling over words to try and form a proper sentence -- thus making you sound like a total moron. But in your own personal, virtual life, you -- in a sense -- have all the time you need to form the perfect phrase. The problem that Mary created with this, is that she took too much time to think of each response -- and in doing so, she was no longer saying what she truly felt; it was all superficial crap. In person, it's right up front -- no time to think. This also tends to get many people into trouble, but there is a fine line between speaking your mind and not processing what you're saying.
However, in this situation, Mary wasn't only not processing, but she wasn't being herself. This fact scared me. I knew Mary more than anyone else in the world, and even I couldn't see how this virtual creature could possibly be her. Virtual reality tends to do this: cause people to be unsure of who they are talking to. When live, it's obvious (unless wearing masks and body suits). There's dangers in both worlds -- but you can generally see the dangers in the real world.
In truth, as much as it pains me to say, this is a common debate worldwide in our. But this debate is typically occurring amongst the older generations (including parents). Kids aren't complaining -- they're enjoying. To parents, virtual life is just another danger being thrust upon their children, as well as another excuse not to do their homework and chores. But to kids, virtual life is reality. It's a whole new world for them. A place to escape to when the real reality doesn't live up to their standards. Virtual life has become virtual reality. It has enhanced in many ways, including its means of communication. For example, if I were to talk to Mary today, I wouldn't have to type my begging and pleadings to her -- and I wouldn't have to wait until the next day to meet her in front of the Quad. I could easily just call her up virtually. Audio chats, video chats, etc. are being invented and put to use by hundreds of thousands of kids out there -- and some adults are beginning to pick up on the new age of technology. But the dangers still exist and will continue to exist in both worlds.
My friendship with Mary has never been the same. And if I were to ever find myself in a similar situation where technology has defied me, I will immediately find myself picking up my cellular phone (or virtually dialing them), because text chat is just as overrated as using paper and a quill pen -- it's just ridiculous.