<- Internet Studio
Human Connection by Ariel Irby

PHASE 1, FIRST INTENTIONS: After reading Character Development: Brody Condon's "Level5" and the Avant-LARP of Becoming Self by Jennifer Krasinski, I was inspired how these people found themselves while being someone else. I am interested in cat fishing and also how having an online presence basically makes you a person. If you don’t have an instagram or Facebook etc., it’s deemed as unsocial in a way because you are not posting your life online in short segments or photos. So I created Zara. Zara is from Norcal, just moved to LA. She is vegan because she has cancer and other treatments did not work. She loves pop culture and going out. She loves fashion. She is a freelance photographer. I will be Zara online and in person. I created Zara to find out more about myself, as the actors did in “Level5.” I am interested in how becoming her changes me - my habits, or language, responses or opinions on social media. I am also interested in how people respond to her, and how I respond to people. I will tell people my story and see how they respond to me having cancer and if that changes our communication. This is a sort of social experiment and I hope to have some sort of self-realization along the way. I created social media accounts like Tinder, instagram and Twitter. Through these sources, I will create my online presence and talk to people.

THOUGHTS WHILE ACTING OUT FIRST PHASE: My time using tinder gave a lot of mixed emotions. I joined as Zara, not looking to create real life relationships. I was there to get information, see how people react to me and portray themselves. I found it difficult to answer as Zara sometimes. Other times, it was easy to give a fake answer. For the most part, I connected to people easier as myself, as Ariel. I came across a few men that I enjoyed talking to. The conversations were witty and funny and creative. Though I spent a few hours everyday online, I couldn’t invest myself into those conversations because I was not invested in creating a real relationship. I considered myself judgmental because I was swiping through men so fast. There would be point were I would “like” everyone I came across because I was searching for interesting conversations. However, I would easily fall back into “liking” men that I found attractive. I probably talked to at least 60 men. I was actually surprised that the majority of them were not trying to get me in their bed. Most of the men were more courteous, but mostly boring.

I found it really hard to be someone else. I created Zara to find myself, but I really just wanted to be myself. Trying to make an online life on all these social media platforms was almost exhausting. I don’t regularly post on social media as Ariel, so trying to get used to posting my thoughts on twitter or instagram was difficult. I eventually gave up on it and focused mainly on tinder because that was the best way to communicate with people. I noticed that instagram and twitter are about expressing yourself with little personal interaction. The comments section is not the best place to get to know someone.

I have also enjoyed seeing how people portray themselves on tinder. Some guys really show their best assets… others are just complete idiots. I collected the best tinder bios and conversations for recording. At this point, I was mostly acting at myself. I enjoyed messing with the guys who were stupid/egotistical/horny. Men with strong opinions or were saying stupid things were interesting to me. I was mostly intrigued by how these men portrayed themselves to someone they had never met. I think it is very interesting that some guys will straight up approach me with sex and then keep on pestering me to come over. I am sure that these men would act differently in person. I think the online barrier has let them be whoever they want to be, which is exactly how I initially approached this project. Because I don’t know these people in real life, I could say whatever I wanted. I did not care what most of them thought of me because they had no real world connection to me. This portion of the project really showed how shallow tinder is, for the most part. This is why I thought that human connection could barely be possible through online platforms.

THOUGHTS ON THE FIRST PHASE: A big issue I was dealing with while trying to be Zara was the fact that I was lying to people. Reading the Dark Net made me sort of start to associate myself with all of the bad people on there that were lying and using that mask of anonymous to get away with things. I know that I am not at that level of evil, but I am lying to people and that’s not something I like doing, I was struggling. I found it very hard to be Zara. My immediate reactions to people would come from Ariel and I wanted to respond in that way. I also noticed that people responded better or connected more when I was myself.

I joined tinder assuming that there was no way that I would connect with someone over a silly app. I have heard some stories of people finding their spouse on tinder. But how can you really tell that they are your soul mate by talking online? I came across a few men that I enjoyed talking to. The conversations were witty and funny and creative. There were also a great amount of men who were so boring. I had no will to keep talking to them. It was the same old “Hey! How are you doing? What are you up to? Oh cool.” That is barely a conversation. When someone would reach out to me with something clever, I was interested. Then there was Conor.

Conor and I connected right from the beginning and I did not understand it. He messaged me with the answer to the riddle in my bio. From there we had so much in common and thought the same way. It was kind of like playing a game. We were figuring each other out and every text was some kind of clue to who he really was. And every text made me realize something about myself. I never thought that it was possible to connect with someone over the internet.

PHASE 2, HUMAN CONNECTION: This connection I made with Conor led me to shift my perspective on my project. I was always interested in how people portray themselves on the web. My project shifted to be more about how people create deep relationships that are rooted in the internet and social media platforms. “Human Connection” is about how online interactions play out into real world scenarios. I was interested in this initially because of the TV show “Catfish” on MTV. People on that show were ready to marry someone that they had never met in person. That seemed so bizarre to me. However, when I met Conor I was shocked at how well we connected. That made me wonder if it really was possible to create true, real online relationships. My experience with Conor, and how incredibly well we meshed those first few weeks made me question the power that online communication had. I would have never met such an awesome person had it not been for a seemingly shallow app. I had always questioned depth over the internet or texting because there is a layer of personality that gets taken away if you are not face to face. Body language is very important. Online, you get a long time to carefully craft a response. When face-to-face, it has to be an immediate reaction. Those immediate reactions say a lot about someone. My interactions with Conor kind of felt like an immediate reaction because I just said whatever I wanted, no matter how strange or questionable. I was completely myself, as well as I could be online. So many previous conversations I had went so poorly and I was so bored, it was so refreshing and shocking to actually be interested in the conversation. I was used to the very basic conversation. It was the same old “Hey! How are you doing? What are you up to? Oh cool.” That is barely a conversation. I thought it was hard to get to know someone through a screen. However, I really felt like I knew Conor well after talking to him for a long time.

The project became about our relationship in a way. Our contact was over iMessage. I enjoyed talking to him. We talked all day, everyday for 3 weeks. I felt as though we knew each other well enough to know how we would respond to certain situations. I did not know how that would translate into real world, physical communication. I hoped it would be similar to our online conversations. When we met in person, it felt like we were old friends catching up. So it was a little bit awkward, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable. I think it could have gone better, but that was my fault because I was not as talkative. After meeting in person, we stopped texting as much. I think a bit of mystery was gone. I hope that we stay friends for awhile. I think that we may have met by chance, but it was meant to be something great. I still question how the heck it all happened, but it is good and I am glad that I have found a friend. He gave me hope for online human connection. A section on my site is dedicated to how our lives got woven together. http://tremendousstrawberryangel.tumblr.com/deeperconnection

To find out more about online connection outside of Tinder, I explored other apps such as Coffee Meets Bagel, Omegle, Whisper and Kindly. Coffee Meets Bagel and Omegle were apps meant for talking to people, but I felt like they were harder to talk to. Coffee Meets Bagel is marketed more to turn online communication into real world communication but of all my interactions on there, they felt even more shallow than on tinder. Not one person wanted to meet in person. Whisper is an app to tell secrets or ask questions. This is less about talking to one person, but connecting to people who have the same secrets as you. I never posted anyone on the site, I just observed. Everything is anonymous. From what I could see, it looked like people were relieved to get some of those things off their chest, and that others could relate. Kindly seemed to be the best for connecting to other people on a deeper level. This app lets you share about mental health, sickness, insecurities, relationship advice and other things like that. You can pose a topic or chat with other people on a topic. There are public boards or you can privately message people. I thought that this app did the best at connecting people because they share similar struggles. I saw a lot of people thanking other and so gracious for that contact. That was pretty incredible to see.

CONCLUSION: Most people would agree that talking to someone in person is very different than talking to someone online or through text messages. There's a layer that gets removed when texting. You can plan out what you will say. You can wait hours or days before responding to someone. In person, there is no 15-minute response window. Immediate reactions are a good way to understand someone. Meeting Conor in person was as expected, not awkward but obviously a little shaky. I was nervous and I did not talk as much as I should have. It was not like our messages. I would have answered any question he asked me, but he never did. I probably seemed much more guarded.

Now, months later I realize that the people I have in my physical life mean more to me than people I met online. I noticed that my communication online with strangers actually hindered my relationships with my boyfriend and best friend. There was a point where I would not want to go out because I wanted to talk to these people. I have not been online as much as I did in the beginning. I have been investing more time in my personal relationships. Those are the people that will be there when I am sick or sad. They can hug me and laugh with me. The reliable relationships are what I need. The relationships that sparked online are nowhere near the level of intimacy that I have with the people I see in person. The people online may know a lot about me, but my closest friends know me much better than that because they know my immediate reactions, my sarcasm and my humor.