Many years ago, sci-fi writer and blogger John Scalzi (with whom I share certain interests, if not a worldview) initiated a writing prompt known as the Weekend Assignment. More recently, a pair known as “Karen and Carly” have taken up the mantle, and for want of something better to do with a Friday afternoon, I’ve decided to stop lurking and start playing along.
This weekend’s assignment: A discussion of the change in social patterns, and a response relating to “where [insert name here] does the most off-or-after hours socializing.” For extra credit: “Do you hang out with your co-workers after hours.”
As it happens, my response probably makes a strong argument for the Internet’s power to shift social patterns. Most of what I’d call my “pure social interaction” time takes place in one of two places: (a) at Church on Sundays, or (b) online, during the week, via either Ventrilo or World of Warcraft. The latter seriously outweighs the former in terms of total hours spent.
In other words … Yes, I’m a geek.
In my own partial defense, most of my friends live in places too far away to easily get together any other way. Free, online chat options like Ventrilo (one of the more popular with gamers, though by no means the only one) have largely replaced the telephone, at least for me, when it comes to social interaction. Vent in particular has the added benefit of hosted “rooms” where multiple people can take part in the conversation, making it much more like a group get-together than a limited two-way telephone call.
Combining Vent with online gaming, like World of Warcraft, essentially offers a modern take on the old poker night. 10-to-25 people, meeting up to play online for a few hours while simultaneously chatting it up via headset. It’s the same kind of smack-talking round table you’d see at a poker game (or in some other guilds’ cases, a locker room) but everyone plays from the relative comfort of his-or-her mom’s basement. (Yeah, that last bit might have been a joke. Maybe.)
For those of us who live in different states, or those with small children who go to bed early, I’ve found Vent+WoW to be a pretty ideal situation. Babysitters are expensive, and leaving one spouse at home with the kids while the other romps happily through the underbrush tends to reduce “Spouse Faction” far below the point at which you’d actually like to come home.
Ironically, I’d say virtual gaming and communication has actually increased my social activity significantly. We still enjoy getting together with friends when we can – and do with some regularity – but the reality of modern life is that the old cocktail party is largely becoming a thing of the past. Real people just don’t have the time, funds or energy to get together the way they used to, and when the reality is that your good friends are scattered over half the country, cocktail parties just don’t fly. (Unless everyone else does, and let’s be honest, my spare room isn’t that big.) But vent does. Along with anyone who’s done enough quests to hatch a proto-drake.
As an additional bonus, The Random Spouse and Yak the Younger also play, which means it’s a family affair…and before you lambast me for my digital proclivities, ask yourself how many fourteen year olds voluntarily spend time hanging out with their parents and thinking their parents are cool…and then quietly admit to yourself that I win this round.
Extra Credit: Yes. But in my case, my co-worker (singular, as I see it) also happens to be a good friend, and was before the current work situation arose, so the question doesn’t really say anything special about my preferences.