This year I’ve been fortunate to meet many of my edublogger friends in person. It started with Learning 2.0 where I got to meet Jeff Utecht, Clay Burell, Wes Fryer, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson (and I also was fortunate to spend lots of time with Susan Sedro, who I had met the year before for the first time); continued to my trip to Doha, Qatar where I got to meet Julie Lindsay; and finally followed me right back home to Bangkok where the wonderful Chrissy Hellyer stayed with us for just under a week (and this doesn’t even begin to include all the other amazing educators I was so fortunate to meet – and now consider my friends – on all these occasions).
As I’m sure many of you would agree, in my experience meeting an online acquaintance in person is exciting, but not surprising.
When I opened the door to see Chrissy, it was like an old friend coming to visit – not some stranger I was meeting for the first time. As Chrissy said, it was my first time meeting her “body,” but we were already good friends from our online conversations. Our f2f conversations simply continued from the last time we spoke – via Skype. In fact, what truly amazes me, is that often my “online friends” know more about what’s going on in my life than my “physical” friends and family.
Being constantly connected means that when Chrissy and I met for the first time I actually knew more about what was “going on” with her than I did when my oldest friend from high school, Martine, showed up for her visit the following weekend. Not that I don’t keep in touch with Martine – we e-mail regularly, occasionally have a phone or Skype call, and we always spend time together when we’re in the same country (not so easy when she lives in England and I’m in Thailand) – but it’s not the same regular, consistent communication I have with my network (almost all of whom definitely do not live in Thailand).
I have to admit, I’ve almost started getting a little irritated with my friends and family that aren’t online with any regularity. They miss the photos I share (unless I send them a direct e-mail or remind them by phone), they don’t get my in-depth vacation recaps from my personal blog until I come home for the summer and do my annual slideshow, and they certainly don’t get the inside scoop on my daily life here in Bangkok because by the time I get home for summer holidays I have to rush through all the stories in whatever limited time I have (and usually I have to tell them over and over again as I go from city to city visiting – by the end of the summer most of my interesting stories have really lost their luster).
So I guess what really surprises me is how so many other people react when I tell them that I’m meeting an old friend for the first time. The confused, somewhat awkward look on their face – clearly not sure exactly what to say. How can you be old friends if you’ve never met? I know they’re thinking, but they’re always too polite to say anything.
When I really take a minute to think about it, though, those virtual friends are actually far more in tune with my life than so many of my “old” friends and family. They all know when I’ve been home sick, or when I’m traveling, or what’s new and exciting in Bangkok. And when they show up at my door, or wave from across the conference hall, or show me around their school, it’s like we’ve been friends and colleagues for ages.
A couple of thoughts about this paradox of virtual friendship spring to mind:
First, because of this and other online-connection experiences I’ve had over the last two years or so, I think I’m beginning to understand the sorts of networks that students and teenagers are creating when they SMS each other every five minutes, or use the library computers to go on Facebook – behaviors which often frustrate and irritate teachers and parents. They’re not necessarily just goofing off – they’re creating, maintaining and enlarging their own personal networks of people who genuinely wish them well and provide them with emotional support.
Second, the old argument against technology being “impersonal” or alienating, that it creates drones who stare in loneliness at separate screens instead of engaging in healthy human interaction, is looking even less likely than it ever did. Whenever humans invent a seemingly “impersonal” new form of technology – whether it be the written word, the telephone, or the computer – we always seem to quickly find ways to use that “impersonal” technology to bring us all closer together. And that’s a very encouraging thought.
What do you think? How do your “virtual friendships” compare to the “real-life” version?