Kylie brought to my attention another negative aspect the internet plays in our relationships. While the internet makes it hard to have meaningful positive relationships with people (i.e. relationships where you are friendly towards each other) it makes negative relationships much easier (i.e. relationships that are about hurting the other). It is much easier to tear someone down, insult them or humiliate them over the internet.
Firstly it is easier because of the distance that the internet places between each party. I can say hurtful things and I know that your responses are limited - there is no immediate threat of physical violence. Additionally I do not have to deal with the way you may feel and feel remorseful myself because I can very simply ignore the hurt it has caused. Distance essentially makes the internet a cowards medium - for people who haven't the courage to say what they think to someone's face.
Secondly the anonymity the internet provides means that not only can someone offend, but they can do it in a way that leaves no observable trace to the offender for all but the expert. This is even more cowardly than hurting someone at at distance! Distance at least still gives the victim an identified source, but anonymity means the attacker can hide in the confidence that they will never in this lifetime be called to account for the things they said.
Finally, if it wasn't bad enough that you can hurt someone without risking anything, but you can also do it very easily in front of a massive audience. You can very quickly share the dirt on someone with the entire world. The only thing worse than an insult, is an insult delivered with an audience watching on.
It isn't hard to find examples of this happening. Hang out in myspace for a while, or on a forum, or on IRC, or on a site like digg. Flamewars are very easy to find. Internet bullying is one the rise. Things are looking bleak.
The quality of human relationships seems to be diminishing rapidly. Maybe this is just a phase as the technology finds its feet and eventually the problems will resolve themselves. I don't think this is true. I think we're rationalizing our relationships like we rationalize every other aspect of our lives.
Well its time to take a stand. Its time to take risks and invest effort into our relationships. Since when did we fool ourselves into thinking that we can have it all at no cost? The internet is a great tool for communication, but if we hide in the folds and take the cheap options we can only expect the same back.