Monday, November 17, 2008

Seeing Double

I feel strangely disoriented. My separate worlds are beginning to touch.

In the last couple of months, I've met a few of my on-line friends in person. And a couple of my in-person friends are starting to dip their toes in the knitting community on-line.

Bess was actually the third, not the first, on-line knitting friend that I encountered in real life. So, why, the others might wonder, didn't I make just as big a commotion about meeting them? It's a couple of things, really. In both of the other cases, I sought out the meeting, knowing where I would find them and setting out on purpose to say hello. It was just as exciting, but not so unexpected. And I found myself a little bemused by the whole experience, thinking it over, getting used to the idea.

It's a strange feeling, meeting for the first time someone who I already think of as a friend. Do I know her or is she a stranger? We have some memories in common, through reading each other's stories and looking at pictures, but can I speak with the familiarity and ease of long acquaintance?

In fact, I'm struck by the sheer physicality of the impression I've gotten when I've at last met an on-line friend. Even for someone who shares pictures of herself on her blog, so that I have an idea of what she looks like, the impact of actually meeting face-to-face is striking. In person, these on-line friends seem larger than life, more vigorous, more vivid. There's always something surprising -- the height, the voice, a transforming smile, the bloom of a complexion. It's bracing. It exposes what an insubstantial wraith is the image I've concocted in my mind from these on-line conversations, compared to the whole person.

In conversation, I find myself chatting about personal events I've read about in a blog entry, asking about how this or that is going, congratulating or expressing sympathy over a triumph or a challenge. And then I stop, thinking, I don't know this person well enough to presume to talk about that.

I talk about my own motivations, how I feel about something I do or don't like, but do I know her well enough to avoid offending? If I allude disparagingly to having -- until I became entranced -- put spinning in the same category as 70s macramé, am I speaking to someone whose grandmother was for years the president of a local guild? Or whose favorite aunt showed her inexpressible love for the whole family with monumental, individually designed creations of macramé? Far-fetched, yes, unlikely, but not impossible. And how would I know?

These friendships seem somehow accelerated by the common interest and passion for our hobbies that we share on-line. But they short-circuit the long-term daily accretion of knowledge, incident, and understanding that one develops with in-person friends over time.

It must be something like the old idea of having a pen-pal. Although I have to admit, when I was a child, I'm not sure attempts to write to a pen-pal would really have taken. Kid-writings tend to be along the lines of: "Dear pen-pal, I have a dog. Do you have a dog? Last summer we went to the beach. Is it cold where you live? I found a seashell. Sincerely, your friend." But if a pen-pal friendship did catch hold and flourish, and somehow a vacation trip or other event brought the children together, would they be instant friends?

Or how about people who date someone they've met over the Internet? What must it feel like for them to meet in person for the first time? Do the feel they know the person well, or not at all? Or both?

And, to exacerbate the feelings of not quite knowing which world I am in, an in-person friend asked me one day whether I know of anyplace to get an on-line spreadsheet to keep track of the rapidly increasing piles of yarn she'd been acquiring. Did I ever! Of course I introduced her to Ravelry. But doing so confronted me for the first time with the necessity to tell a friend about my on-line identity and this very blog. Being shy about it, in real life, I had never told anyone except for family members. I had felt a little silly about the whole thing when I first started writing, not sure if I was being ridiculous. And now there wouldn't be any hiding it. If she were on Ravelry, it would be natural to wonder about my user-id, which, through my Ravelry profile, leads straight here.

So the jig was up. I gave her a guided tour of Ravelry, explained the features, and showed her my project page. I brought her here. I showed her that I'd been writing about projects she'd seen in person in my informal knitting group. It feels strange, like there's more of me on display than I bargained for.

But I get so much from these on-line interactions, so much learning and enjoyment and wonder. It's well worth the minor discomfort of adjusting.

I'm still seeing double, but things are beginning to come into focus.


Robin said...

Well said. I very often feel closer to my online friends than ones I know in the physical world. When I meet them, I feel like I've known them forever!

Bess said...

Beautifully said! And completely familar, too. I have expanded my circle of in-person friends through on-line relationships and I have also drifted away from other on-line relationships that had been founded only on our shared passion for yarn. Issues were revealed through getting together in person that overshadowed the initial attraction. Of course this happens with face 2 face relationships too. Just that, when they happen with on-line ones, I wonder if I have enough facts to justify a reaction.

still and all, I wouldn't give up the opportunity to touch new lives that the net provides for all the tea in china. And I am definitely glad I got to meet you up close and in person. :D

Amy said...

Nicely put, as always.