THE SHOWDOWN BETWEEN IN-PERSON AND CYBERSPACE RELATIONSHIPS:
SEEING IS BELIEVING

by John Suler, Ph.D.

I could write this section on seeing almost word for word as I wrote the previous section on hearing. The human face and body language are rich in meaning and emotion. Critics of text-only communication in cyberspace complain that all these visual cues are missing, hence making the relationship ambiguous and depleted. Advocates of text-driven CSR again could reply that this ambiguity creates an opportunity to explore one's transference reactions, thereby enriching the relationship. They also may praise its level playing field. Appearances -- such as gender, race, and whether you are "attractive" or not - are irrelevant. Everyone has an equal voice and is judged by the same standards: their words. Some claim that text-only talk carries you past the distracting superficial aspects of a person's existence and connects you more directly to their mind and personality.

Like audio-streaming, video transmissions will eventually make face-to-face meetings both practical and realistic, with the added feature of making it possible for you to look like Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwartzenegger, or Daffy Duck, if you so choose. The multimedia chat environments where people use "avatars" to represent themselves is the first step in this opportunity to present yourself visually in any form you desire. It's the perfect way to express all sorts of things about your personality. You also can interact with others in any of an almost limitless variety of visual scenes. Want to meet your friend at the bottom of the ocean, or on a space station, or in the Oval Office?.... No problem. There is a big disadvantage, though, of audio/visual cyberspace meetings involving three or more people who can see each other only on computer screens. The subtle body language of who is looking and gesturing at whom is lost. Eventually, holographic meetings will solve that problem.

09/05/98

John Suler, PhD, is Professor of Psychology at Rider University and a practicing clinical psychologist. He has published on psychotherapy, mental imagery, and eastern philosophy. He currently maintains several web sites.

 

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