The other day an old friend popped up on me via instant messenger. We had lost touch in the way that you do, and hadn’t talked in years. We spent an hour or so chatting and catching up — She lives out west now! She has an adorable daughter! Work is good! Etc. — and then went back to doing whatever we were doing before, which in my case was searching for bear videos and wondering how long it was going to be before I could take a drink without feeling kind of shifty about it.
Anyway, here’s the thing: when I was remembering the conversation several hours later, something very strange happened. Well, not “strange,” exactly, because it’s something that has been occurring to me more frequently of late, and I’m not sure what it means. In my recollection of the chat, my friend and I were in a completely different physical space altogether. I mean, I was at my desk the entire time when we were “speaking,” but in my mind the whole thing took place somewhere else, somewhere amorphous and unconnected to any physical location.
I don’t know if I’m explaining this clearly enough, but I seem to be experiencing some sort of disassociation with the terrestrial when I think about these conversations. If I talk to someone on the phone, when I think back on it a few hours afterward I can see myself pacing around the room, head cocked against my shoulder. With an IM chat — depending on who I’m talking to or what the subject is — my sensory perceptions place me in a different, utterly ethereal zone. (The effect is even more pronounced if the conversation occurs with those to whom I speak less frequently or know to be “far away.”)
This is not obviously something completely exclusive to the Internet. We’ve all had the experience of stepping out of a car and suddenly realizing, “Wait, I just drove all the way home and have no memory of doing it.” But there’s a very different feeling to this one; it’s almost as if my brain is creating my own avatar and putting it in a space which lacks the constraints of time or much physical detail. I’m mentally talking to someone else in a vague and undefined area while I am physically “talking” to someone through a screen and keyboard.
There are all sorts of discussions about whether or not the Internet is “rewiring” our brains. I’m pretty sure there’s at least something to the idea — God knows it’s a struggle for me to read printed text in a linear fashion anymore without jumping to the laptop to investigate related information — but this IM phenomenon is throwing me a bit. Is this happening to everyone, or is it just another sign of my impending mental disintegration? Because I could totally see a case for that argument too.
Photo by Tyler Nienhouse, from Flickr.