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Virtual Selves, Vacant Hearts

My first face-to-face interview with Krista took place on a Friday afternoon in a local coffee shop.  We had “chatted” several times on Facebook, and since she lived in my area I suggested that we talk in “real” time.  I explained that I was gathering material on how the proliferation of social media was reshaping the lives of Americans, especially those who, like her, had grown up immersed in virtual environments.  She readily agreed to meet.  This was gratifying because over the course of several months I had spoken (mostly online) to dozens of social-media users, and Krista had been among the most articulate.  So I was prepared for a lively discussion.  In my experience, meeting someone “in the flesh” after speaking exclusively online can be disconcerting.  One forms impressions of the person that often prove to be misleading or patently false.  Or, as was the case on this occasion, the physical presence of the person can transform one’s impression of him or her dramatically.  I had seen only a single picture of Krista, a rather shadowy likeness posted on her Facebook page, one in which she was posed wearing a hoodie with most of her face obscured.  But what I saw across the table that afternoon was a strikingly beautiful young woman of 24, dressed fashionably in designer jeans and a modest blouse, with no tattoos in evidence.  Nor did she display...

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