Getting life online

I’ve signed up for an online course, so I have to go for ‘online chat room training’. Two hours has been allocated for this exercise, so it MUST be complicated. I know am going to be the dodo in the corner with my hand permanently in the air in a flat panic.

I find a seat in the computer room and we are guided into the online environment. Fifteen minutes later everyone is logged on and logged into a virtual world. Our backs to each other, we face a blank screen like a clean white page. Some words magically appear on it – a greeting from one of my fellow students. I can’t help but turn around and scan the group to see if anyone is grinning at their own cleverness. Nope. All I see are backs of heads.

I turn back to the screen to see that in 30 seconds the whole page has filled with conversation.  There are about 20 people in the room, I can reach out and touch some of them. All of them are talking at once, but all I can hear is the tap tap tap of keyboards and the occasional guffaw when someone writes something funny. It’s bizarre.

I write something on the page and the woman next to me asks a virtual question. I can’t help it. Instead of writing the answer I turn to her and speak. My voice echos in the relative silence. A few people look up and my neighbour smiles at me indulgently, like I am a kindergarten child who doesn’t get the protocol of this situation. She writes her response on the screen.  

Okay. So I turn back to the screen and start typing. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

As the page fills up with words I can’t help thinking that if this were a real conversation how rude it would be. We are all talking over each other, three different conversations happen at once, we interrupt each other to change the subject. If it were real conversation we would be pissing each other off at a million miles an hour. It would be loud and selfish. But the usual rules of courtesy are suspended here, and nobody seems to mind. 

If we turned around to face each other we could have this conversation for real and get all the visual cues we are missing. We could see someone’s expression when they say something – are they being judgemental or are they being funny? I don’t have that luxury. I see only words and all I can hear is tap, tap tappity tap tap.

After half an hour I’m already tired of it and wondering how long this fairly pointless exercise is going to go on before I can actually talk to someone. I’m hungry for a real interaction. I want to see the faces of these virtual people.  

With an hour and a half to go I am wishing someone would speak. I expect more training but it doesn’t happen.  This is it. A storm of tapping. A deluge of disjointed conversation. And no one seems to think that its strange except me.

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