Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Early days


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.


James Higham said...

Some of the most real friendships come through them initially being blogfriendships because over time, a person's foibles come out, even or especially when he tries to conceal them.

The people who are what it says on the box, even if their whole set of smokescreens are there to protect them, do become apparent and when we look at RL friends, how much can we know about anyone anyway?

There are people who have known me 40 years and still don't really know me, mainly because one does not give everything away and some people are private.

On the other hand, some people reveal far more of themselves online - I'm one of those. The bloggers I've met so far, while not physically looking as I imagined them, are pretty well the same, character-wise.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. No time this morning to do much more than echo James's point that writing gives away much more about you than talking no matter how hard you try to disguise yourself.

Sam Vega said...

Yes, I agree that such relationships are important in a sense that has not quite been appreciated yet. I see leaving comments on blogs as rather akin to chatting to neighbours. There is that old bloke who is always tending to his garden, and that nice lady who chats while she waits for her dog to finish his business. As in the "real world", different people bring out different facets of who I am.

I think our sense of what on-line relationships are will crystalise as more people reflect on them and have insights. In a way I am dreading that BBC news item that begins "Social psychologists at an Australian university have published interesting research on internet relationships which suggests that...." Once I hear it, the crystals will beging to form in one particular way...

One thing I have noticed is that bloggers tend to be more polite and welcoming than people in "face-to-face" interactions. Do you think this is because they want to encourage further readers and don't want to alienate even those who they dont care for? Or is it more genuine, in the way that enthusiasts often seem touched and grateful that people take an interests? Either way, it is something to be valued, I think.

A K Haart said...

James - you are right - I reveal more of myself online, partly because the audience is different, more varied and more receptive.

David - I like that aspect of writing, although I find it increases my uncertainty about some things. I'm more aware of other points of view.

Sam - "Or is it more genuine, in the way that enthusiasts often seem touched and grateful that people take an interests?"

I think it's genuine and it arises because the web provides the means.

Real life is constrained by many accidental encounters, where the web is more of a seeking out based on just that experience.

Rob Cottingham said...

I'm glad you liked the cartoon, and thanks for sharing it!

My wife, Alexandra Samuel, has written a fair bit about the online vs. offline debate, and she's adamant in rejecting "real-world" as a synonym for "offline". She has a TEDx talk and blog post you might find interesting.

Thanks again!

A K Haart said...

Rob - I did like the cartoon and I've bookmarked your site.

Thanks for the links - I'll post on the TEDx talk because I think it's an interesting subject.