American Polyintimacy in the 90s and the Internet

by Green Onions

Recent Trends

I have noticed two heartening changes in recent years. Though the pace of these movements may appear glacial, the cumulative impact could become significant both within and outside of cyberspace in the next decade.

In an age in which the habits of writing letters and reading books appear to be on the decline due to the telephone and the VCR, the internet has encouraged many users to acquire or reacquaint themselves with the nuances of written communication.

Although many 'netizens are woefully unskilled in syntax, spelling, diction, and grammar, there has nevertheless been a slow improvement in their abilities to structure and organize the content of their ideas. My own optimism causes me to hope that this trend will also have a positive impact on their abilities to engage in intellectual inquiry. (Every teacher of English will vouch for the relationship between being able to express thoughts in writing and the ability to formulate them in the first instance.)

There has also been a slow but gradual improvement of manners and in the standards for polite, sophisticated interaction. While it is certainly true that there are a large number of young (mostly male) adults on the internet who seem capable only of using a handful of unprintable expressions, there is also a much larger group of other people who are learning a wide variety of nuances and conventions relevant to public discourse or private conversations with strangers. Many of these skills are useful but certainly not as essential in most aspects of life outside the internet.

Both of these improvements may be occurring partly as a result of inter-gender discussions in which the parties are required to think a bit more clearly about what they are trying to say and how they say it rather than routinely following the socially enforced conventions that determine the course of many intra-gender conversations between strangers. For example, it is quite typical for two males who meet in a public place to discuss sporting events as a topic of common interest, and there are analogous `conventional conversation topics' that often arise in female/female interactions. Not only are there fewer such choices in intergender conversations, but there is something about the `safety' of virtual interactions which reduces the number of such `boilerplate' conversations even in the intragender context.

Perhaps these developments could eventually be undercut by video technology. Certainly the _status quo_ will persist as long as most users continue to access the internet via telephone lines.

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