You can be civilized and unscrupulous, of course. But new studies claim to lead to the surprising conclusion that digital communication results in more and better friendships, greater honesty and faster intimacy.
I work with college students, so I’m not sure “faster intimacy” is a worthwhile goal, at least not if you want to sleep with strangers. And character is still more about transforming our desires than it is about our deeds. I’ve argued elsewhere that real change comes from the inside out.
But as it turns out young people tend to use online communication primarily with people we already know off-line, reinforcing exisiting relationships rather than forming new ones. And the extent to which dysfunctional people are in a dark basement somewhere living a virtual life may be no greater than the extent to which there are dysfunctional people hiding in dark basements anyway.
Other research indicates shy people are less shy online, and learn to be less shy offline because of it. In one study college students who spent more time on Facebook were more likely to express empathy both on and offline than those who didn’t. College students at Michigan State University reported they were more than twice as likely to be bullied in person (39%) than online (17%).
And in an emerging peer-to-peer economy, where services like Task-Rabbit and Airbnb are targeting young adults, reputation travels quickly, forcing people who might not have otherwise thought of it to make their bed, say please and thank you, and be true to their word.
Task-Rabbit allows you to find someone to do your laundry or to sell your special skills like IKEA pick-up or IKEA assembly. You can borrow or loan a car at Get Around and find financing for you start-up at KickStarter.
Airbnb has booked over two-million nights on someone else’s couch or spare bed, with little mayhem at all. (But there is a $50,000 guarantee for renters if someone trashes your place.) For the most part, people are buying new sheets for their guests rather than burning holes in each other’s sofas.
So be nice.
A negative rating is only a click away.
And “a good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold (Proverbs 22:1).”