My girlfriend suspects I am having an affair.
She thinks this, because she often walks in when I am typing messages to someone called Sunny. While this mysterious character will no doubt be flattered by the implication, its not him I’m obsessed with, just his RSS feed. His, and those belonging to about thirty other people too.
When I mentioned in August that I would be inaugurating a blog (or a “blog” as I would have called it then), my girlfriend was slightly offended. Why communicate online when there is a whole city of real people to talk to? Why sacrifice human contact, and body language, to have a debate with someone you will never meet, never see, never know? My response was to reassure her that I was not seeking to replace proper conversations. I pointed out that we gravitate towards people with similar opinions and outlook, and it would be a tragedy if there were friends of mine I hadn’t met yet. Through the Internet I could find them, even if by some ridiculous mistake of fortune they happened to live in Nebraska. Using my website to broadcast my thoughts into the ether, I too would be famous for fifteen people.
The stigma associated with meeting people online (for debate, love, or friendship) reduces every day, but I don’t believe the Internet presents a threat to offline, non-virtual (i.e. real) interaction. Over at The Triforce, where the authors are famous for fifty people apparently, Ste Curran tells us why Internet communities are better in the flesh:
Meeting someone online is a bit like telling a ghost story. It is meant to be real, but all parties involved should know it is also essentially fictional. Everything you read on a forum, in an IM, in an email; each of these fragmented bursts of data, or microscopic-essays, or simple streams of consciousness; each of them is a representation of a single instant in someone’s life. The person producing them is communicating by sending a series of snapshots of themselves, and stringing together those snapshots misses out a big piece of what makes them them.
So the signature, the avatar, the email address you hold up as this person is not quite the same as firstname lastname behind the keyboard. It’s not they’re picking themselves out as something else with objective cynicism … The person you’re typing to is the tone of their voice, the way their eyes dart, the way their clothes fall, that fractional gasp when they’re surprised. It is in everything they don’t know about themselves.
Again, because that is super important: they are not hiding. Anything but. Something about the internet means people are more free with their conversation there than they might be if they’d known you for months in real life. They are telling you things in private they haven’t told their best friends. Even forums where you talk about nothing bring you so close. Read between the lines in the nonsense and you can build up incredibly detailed internal profiles of your online friends. You’ll still never really know them until the moment you touch.
To be honest, I’m rather wary of quoting a whole three paragraphs of Triforce material. Since I have met them online and in person, I can tell you with authority that fuelling their egos further is probably not a good idea. So no-one tell them, OK?