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Virtual relationships

Back when I used to watch the Young and the Restless (yes, I did, for years!), I participated on a Y&R discussion board that also had an off-topic board attached to it, where you could talk about stuff like politics and the Iraq war and religion and abortion and all kinds of fun controversial flame-war type topics. This came in handy when you got tired of arguing about who was the bigger slut, Sharon or Phyllis.

If you’ve ever been part of a long-time online community, you know how they work. There are power struggles and politics and coups. This group was no different. Eventually the core users defected and I went with them because they were my online community. The virtual space we inhabited together was not a particular discussion board on a particular server – it was these particular personalities. It was these people.

We’ve been together, in one incarnation or another, for about ten years now. Most of us have never met, since we’re geographically diverse. We just talk online every day about the mundane, the political, and the life-altering things in our lives.

Online friendships and communities feel real to me. These are real people, and they’re real friends.  And as an added bonus for an introvert, online communities allow me to meet most of my social needs from a comfortable distance.

Even my relationships with friends and family members are primarily virtual these days.

As a matter of fact, if it weren’t for GC and Duncan, I’d never see anybody. Okay that’s not true. I did have a lunch engagement yesterday (I got stood up!) and I do get together with people in real life at least once or twice a week.

Then there are my blogging friends, many of whom I have met, and like, and get together with occasionally. But our relationships, too, take place primarily on the virtual plane, with them reading my blog and me reading their blogs.

A regular reader of this blog – the penultimate Quiet Reader  – emailed me one day to say hello. And she said something that comes back to me often.

“Don’t you find that the blogosphere is a little like driving at night – you look in windows and see all sorts of warm, loving ‘families’ sitting at the dining room table or playing cards or watching hockey or eating chips and salsa?”

And it’s true, isn’t it? Little glimpses into each others lives, little fragments of life playing out in front of uncurtained windows. That’s what blogging is all about.

I find the imagery charming, but it occurs to me that between blogging, discussion groups, facebook, twitter and email, the vast majority of my social interactions are virtual.

Is it just me, or is that just how it is now for everybody? Do you think it’s okay? Or are we losing something because of it?

13 comments to Virtual relationships

  • I have a similar situation. Most of my online group are from the US, as I joined a political discussion group and met them that way. We’ve know each other for years. We talk every day, multiple times even. More than I do with people in RL or family. And I’ve gone through those same community squabbles (boy, can they ever get nasty!). Is it okay? Hmmm – I’m extremely introverted (not shy, but introverted) and find that these online relationships work well for me b/c I don’t get the same energy drains that I do when socializing with people face-to-face.

  • XUP

    Most of my relationships and social interactions are definitely NOT virtual. However, many of the relationships I now have started virtually. I don’t feel that the superficial connection I have with people online are “relationships”. I can be interested/intrigued by someone I meet on the internet, but I have to meet them in person before I feel I have a “relationship” with them. Once I know them in real life, the relationship can develop online between meetings. I don’t know — people don’t seem entirely real to me until I’ve seen them, touched them, heard their voice, seen their mannerisms, shared some air with them…

  • Julia

    I joined my Boxtalk chat group in 2000 but they had been going long before that, and some of them belonged to the Fido Net No Rules group before that. I have met most of them in real life now and have become particularly close to one, even though she lives in Nova Scotia. YOU were the first “internet person” I met in real life! Since then I have met two other bloggers (not including all the Ottawa bloggers I see from time to time) and I have not been disappointed. I think one can have a meaningful relationship online, provided one has some reality-based point of connexion. Through Facebook, I have reconnected with many people from high school, almost all of whom I have not seen in 30 years.

    I would say we are gaining, not losing, by having virtual friends. We still have real friends and the virtuals are just more.

  • Most of my social interactions are on line, too, these days. Like you, my relationships with blog friends are very real to me. I often say “I’d have no life at all if I didn’t have an online life” and it’s true. I also have “met” someone on a forum I participate in that has been…interesting. Frustrating at times, but interesting. Still, I do crave real, in person contact with people and sometimes my online activity only reinforces to me how lonely I feel…But those moments are not overwhelming me at all (except with this forum person) and I am very grateful for the great connections I have via my blog and other online places.

  • Oma

    It is hard to share a Christmas or birthday meal on line :-)

  • kimmie

    I second Coyote. “I often say “I’d have no life at all if I didn’t have an online life” and it’s true.”

    Before the computer age, I had virtually no contact with anyone except immediate family, by choice. Books were my friends. I was way too introverted to even LOOK at a cashier when checking out my groceries.
    I consider it a very big plus to “know” people online, and talk on phone occasionally, and even meet in person sometimes! We have met 4 people in person that I initially had met online. (and i hope to meet more) Definitely has added to my life!

  • grace

    Many of my life’s circumstances have made me a loner. By the time I was ten years old I had eight younger siblings to help care for: there wasn’t a lot of time to socialize. Too, we lived on a farm and for the first six years of school I was the only one in my class in our one-room school. I didn’t know many outside my family until I went away to university. Part circumstance and part disposition, I’ve always filled my hours reading about the adventures outside my world and been content to observe and digest and write about what goes on within my own.

    My first experience with the ‘virtual world’ was in the ’90’s when I was a writer for and on the editorial board of a feminist mothering magazine. The on-line group (the Virtual Kitchen Table) grew out of frustrations we faced trying to edit, write policy papers and organize seminars with umpteen children at our feet. It became much more: it became a lifeline for many of us who worked at home and craved companionship and stimulation.

    Virtual friendships feed people like me who are a little odd, a lot introverted and who learn as much about ourselves as others as we set our thoughts on the virtual paper of the interwebs.

    I have met some wonderful people from my virtual world. Zoom would never blow my cover but I’ll confess here that I’m the Penultimate Quiet Reader (henceforth known as PQR) and the night driver whose heart is warmed peeking in the window. And I’ll give you the next line from that first letter to her: “The blogosphere lets me know that there are so many decent, decent people in the world doing ordinary and extraordinary things.”

  • April

    I grew up with the internet – my family got internet early, and I’ve been online since I was nine or so. My life would have been completely different without the internet communities I joined, bonded with, and stuck with even though I was way past the community’s focus (Pokemon come to mind). I had two different social lives in junior high, and my meatspace life would have been a lot lonelier at times without my online friends to joke around with and confide in.
    Through missed connections and annoying geography, I never did meet any of those people in real life. These days, most of my online friends are the friends I left behind in Canada when I moved to Korea this fall. I do love that now that most people are comfortable with the internet, blogs, and facebook, you never really have to say goodbye, just “see you online!”

  • When I moved to Paris for a few months this year, I started following some English-speaking Parisians through their blogs and on Twitter and actually met up with them a few times while I was there. My experience was enriched because of them, and I never would have had the opportunity without social media.

  • I am new to the blogosphere and the online community. It has helped me feel more connected to the city and the people. We have lived here almost 4 years and I did not feel that way before, so I can say it has improved my life. I also find it entertaining, but I haven’t made any connections that many of you write about. My real relationships are still in person.

  • I think the internet has changed the way we “socialize” much like the telephone did. You don’t have to see people to talk to them. Because of my job (social work) I see people every day and talk all day to them. After work I often don’t want to see people face to face. I’m all peopled-out. The internet lets me connect and be sociable while wearing my flannel pajamas and drinking a cup of tea.

    And I’m sure my husband is glad I have other people to talk about my hobbies and interests with so I can spare him!

  • My social life consists of a going to the movies once a week and playing mah jong once a month. Other than that I just read, garden and blog. I probably spend an average of three hours a day online and love the connections I make with other people this way. It makes me feel like I’m participating in a more varied social life on my terms.

    And it’s through blogging that I befriended daisyfae (trailer park refugee) and we ended up having a holiday in Spain together in 2008 and are now planning one in Greece in 2010

  • Kati

    Sharon is definetly the bigger slut!