Voice Over: (Michael Palin) June the 4th, 1973, was much like any other summer’s day in Peterborough, and Ralph Melish, a file clerk at an insurance company, was on his way to work as usual when… (da dum!) Nothing happened! (dum dum da dum) Scarcely able to believe his eyes, Ralph Melish looked down. But one glance confirmed his suspicions. Behind a bush, on the side of the road, there was *no* severed arm. No dismembered trunk of a man in his late fifties. No head in a bag. Nothing.
Last weekend, I drove an hour and a half to meet with 2 women I had only ever met on the internet.
No, wait, that’s not exactly true. I had only corresponded with one of them. She had chatted with the third on the net and thought we had a lot in common and would all enjoy each other’s company.
So, there we were, on one level you could say we were three strangers agreeing to meet one another in a town none of us were completely familiar with, all of us an hour or more from home.
Risky behavior? The set up for a cheesy horror movie? The opening of a public service announcement for online safety?
Nope. None of the above.
What actually happened is the three of us spent the day chatting, laughing, walking, and lunching in lovely downtown Northampton, walking away with a new appreciation for our fellow writers and plans to meet up again.
It’s a new world we find ourselves in. Especially for those of us who didn’t grow up in the uber-connected world of social media. We’ve all heard the stories of on-line predators and even in the cartoons, we’re warned that ‘on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog.’ http://www.condenaststore.com/gallery.asp?startat=%2Fgetthumb.asp&CategoryID=146227&txtSearch=nobody+knows++you%27re+a+dog&x=0&y=0
My experience has been of developing solid and lasting friendships through my online communities. Over the past few years, I have ended up meeting IRL (“in real life”) many of the poets and writers I have chatted, emailed, and participated in virtual groups with.
Not a single one of them turned out to be a zombie, an ax-murderer, or a dog.
So in no particular order, I want to give a shout out to some of my online-turned-meat-space friends:
While I am certain someone will have a story of an online relationship going tragically wrong, I maintain that it’s a lot less compelling to repeat a story where, like the Monty Python skit referenced in the epigraph, ‘and nothing happens.’ Which, I’m willing to bet, comprises the vast majority of these kind of interactions.
I’m also not advocating throwing common sense and basic safety out the window here. (Meet in a public place, let people in your life know where you’ll be, leave at any time you feel uncomfortable, etc.) But the reality is, especially in a community based on shared interests that you have some working relationship with (like on online critique group), your real life connections will mirror your virtual ones.
I know my community of writers would be a far poorer one without the friends I’ve made through my online writing groups.