Ben Goldacre, who manages to be both smart and cute, posted the other day about his interview on Newsnight with a gentleman called Aric Sigman.
Goldacre was expressing his usual bemused irritation with the selective use of sources – in this case by Sigman – and Sigman was expressing concern that the internets haz stolen our brainz. Goldacre always talks sense, but what mesmerised me was Sigman’s definition of a friend as someone he has actually shaken hands with.
I don’t know about you, but the people I tend to shake hands with are people like lawyers and bank managers and doctors, people who are in no way my friends, and contrariwise many of my truest friendships were formed online, some of them almost a decade ago.
Sigman seems to be confusing the medium and the message. Surely the internet just lets you express yourself in your own way. If you are wordy and nerdy you put up blog posts like this one. If you are silly and giggly you throw sheep at your friends on FaceBook. The internet is just another medium, and in pre-internet days I’d have rather earnest conversations in pubs with other slightly geeky people (still do) while the sheep-throwers went clubbing, and good for them. We’ve just added the internet to our list of venues.
Sigman commented that ‘there is a difference between the virtual and the real’. But I don’t think there is. They blur and overlap and interweave. I use the internet as one of many channels for conducting my real life, and vice versa.
Surely it’s just that the internet has made people-watching easier. Academics like Sigman won’t now be arrested if they eavesdrop on the silly, fun, facile conversations that take place while teenage girls learn how to form friendships because the conversations take place on-line. Teenage girls giggle a lot, both online and in the mall. Who’d have thought?