A curious aspect of the internet is the way you build virtual friendships simply by blogging and leaving comments. I’ve called them friendships because as far as I’m aware we don’t have quite the right words here. David over at duffandnonsense calls web pals e-pals which is better, although I don’t see it being adopted widely in the areas I visit.
Because it isn’t quite friendship is it? We aren’t pals or mates in the traditional flesh and blood sense, are we? There is something temporary and tentative about it - like a work colleague you know you probably won’t keep in touch with when either of you leaves work.
There is also something graduated about it, because we tend to comment more frequently on some blogs, less frequently on others and styles vary too, from the informal to more distant and matter of fact.
Sometimes both bloggers and commenters set a really chatty, familiar tone going to such a degree that you may even feel like an intruder if you leave a comment yourself. It’s rather like going to the pub and joining a table of people you don’t know. Yet it isn’t really like that at all, because new commenters are generally much more welcome than the pub intruder. Comments are the lifeblood of any blog really. Nobody can toss their words into a well of silence for long.
Although that's not quite true either, because bloggers have blog statistics available – they know people are reading their blog even if they say nothing. They know about regular visitors too, all of which helps to make the internet into a different kind of social interaction.
Of course the most peculiar thing of all is that you don’t know what your e-pals look like, the sound of their voice, their habits of social interaction. You never hear their laughter. There are exceptions of course. Some people do know each other outside the internet, but then these aren’t the relationships I’m talking about.
For me, the nearest thing to e-pals outside the internet were a few work colleagues I’d never seen because we worked in different offices, but spoke on the phone and exchanged emails. That’s quite common I imagine.
I always remember coming face to face with a guy I knew well because I’d spoken to him regularly on the phone for about ten years before we actually met. When we finally did meet, it was a real surprise to hear that familiar deep voice coming from a little guy who was nothing like my image of him.
So it is with e-pals. No doubt we’ll get used to it and a fuller and more rounded terminology will evolve, but I tend to feel these are the early days of something socially important.