Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Phantom People

This post has been half composed since last summer. Actually the real history goes back quite a bit further...maybe when I first meet my friends from an online parenting group. But really my affair with the internet and the people I meet over the internet goes back much further. This post has never really felt right though, and I've aborted several efforts to put into words my thoughts about "online" vs "real life" friends. I have no doubt that this post will fail to satisfy as well but for some reason I have to put it out there. For one thing, it's been rattling around in my brain for too long and making me crazy. For another, I realized when I was putting together a casual gathering for a New Year Eve's party, that I don't know anyone whom I could invite. I have meet some people at the kids' school, and become pretty good friends with one of the families (who is coming). There's another family I like but I'm not sure how they feel about us...and there are some others that have promise. And of course my friend D is coming because he's like a part of the family now...much more than a friend. But coming up with a list to invite made me feel kind of sad because most of the people I'd like to be here just can't. They live too far away and our friendship developed over the ether of the internet.

I've been fascinated with the possibility of the internet for along time. Being an avid scifi reader, it was hard to not imagine the possibilities. And of course William Gibson's Necromancer just made those fantasies all the more vivid. The idea of a whole separate world intrigued me. I love the idea of worlds existing beside each other not just parallel but drifting into each other, enmeshing in such a way that it is hard to separate the threads of one world from the other. My exploration began when I was twenty-one, I was introduced to a board, DOS system, black screen, green type. Of all the boards I joined this one was the one that meshed the most with my real life. After about a week of posting online I meet most of the people. The meshing was made complete in that these people knew me by my board name as opposed to my real name. Even once they knew my real name, they continued to use my online handle. My identity felt marvelously fluid. I created a persona that traveled not just online but with me when I went out with these people.

And the affair with the internet has continued from that moment on...not all positive of course. There was the Irish man I meet online at a Scottish online cafe. Over the internet and telephone, everything was perfect. It was intense but when we meet, there was on connection, no chemistry. You could almost hear the hiss of air escaping the balloon...not even a dramatic pop. From this to various parenting boards to myspace to blogging to facebook....all these people, all these connections, meshing into my life in the subtlest way. Some of the people I came to know through this wireless connection I have meet in "real life" while others I still only know through the black type of the computer.

What amazes me though is that I feel closer to many of you that I have not meet than I do to people I see nearly everyday. I used to worry about this. I thought it reflected an inability to connect to people. I grew concerned that I felt a safety with this kind of bodiless connection. I wondered if I had some kind of psychological disorder that made phantom people easier to touch than real bodies, real flesh.

But when I began to seriously take on my depression and what it was doing to my family, I posted here. It was not, as so many cultural critics claim, a desire to reveal my most personal details to the world--a kind of expose egotism. Rather it was because my readers have become my close friends. I knew that I would find the support that I needed here. I felt safe disclosing this information because there were so many people who cared about me...cared even though they had never encountered my body. It made me realize that the people I know through the internet are not phantoms. In too many ways we have touched each other, we have fought, we have loved, and in some ways held each other...all virtually. And for me this brings into question the idea of real life. What does this mean? Real life? Is it not real life when you leave comments, or I leave comments, when we reach across the ether for human contact?

3 comments:

John B-R said...

For what its worth, I consider our friendship part of my real life. If I have cause to refer to you in conversation, I always say, "my friend Ginger", not "my virtual friend".

The only thing that would be different "in person" is I'd be able to give you and Horacio hugs. And to dote a bit, avuncularly, on the kids.

Happy new year. May your 09 be great.

Ginger As in Green Tea... said...

John I always refer to you as my friend John as well...never with the "virtual friend" claimer.

Happy new year to you as well!

And lots of hugs...

Erica said...

Same here. It's weird I know and I've been told so, but I do feel a connection with many people that I've met online and would really love to meet irl because I consider them real friends, not virtual friends.

A big hug for you, Horacio and the kids. Have a happy New Year's Eve and the best for this 2009!