Fredrick Matzner explains why we feel anxiety when we walk into a room in an art museum and are confronted with an abstract painting. According to him, at that moment we feel anxiety because we do not know what to make of the painting. Only when we start recognizing relatable objects in the painting, he claims, our anxiety diminishes. It is known patterns that provide us with a feeling of security, and even of identity.
This means that we by default try to pursue Clive Bell’s first way to experience art: reducing art to a mere representation of the real world. It also means we embrace Levinas’ totality. And, it means that we, by default, try to approach the online realm as a version of the offline world, if only to feel secure.
If this is the case, our logical strategy online would be to look for relatable phenomena to reduce our anxiety in the otherwise alien sphere. Human contact is such a phenomenon.
This way of looking at our needs would help to explain the difference between our attitudes towards offline communication and online communication. Offline communication takes place in a reality in which we already feel safe. We recognize the objects around us and live our lives in familiar routines. We feel we have a grip on our surroundings. Other people offline are a potential threat to our sense of security: there is no telling what they will say or do.
Online communication, on the other hand, takes place in an unknown realm. In this realm, human contact is a recognizable phenomenon that reduces our anxiety, provided that it is a contact that serves our short-term and long-term goals. Enjoying a trusted contact online is like having conquered a weird environment – it provides us with a rush of relief.