Friday, April 5, 2013

Virtually Friends

I am very saddened by the recent death of Roger Ebert.  He may have been famous for his movie reviews, but in my mind he was a blogger.  When cancer stole his ability to speak he turned not just to writing, but to an internet community.  There is a difference between putting your writing out there, and being willing to make that an interactive experience with your readers.  It creates a connection that doesn't exist purely in a single direction.  It's one thing to read an excerpt like the one he wrote about his love for his wife in his memoir, but another to have it posted on his blog where people can comment.  My 'Happy Anniversary' wish may not have been memorable, but it was sincere, and there is something about knowing he saw it.  I will miss his writing.

Mr Ebert certainly never read my blog, and I'm not pretending he had any real connection to me at all, but on a smaller scale I frequently connect to others through blogging in a more mutual way.  There is a capacity to get to know people through this medium that to my mind is unique.

I read a post recently by one of my favorite bloggers that has stayed with me.  She announced that she and the father of her children were breaking up.  I am genuinely sad about it.

What surprises me a little, however, is that it hit me about as hard as similar announcements by people I actually know.  I've never met this blogger, but I feel I know her through her writing.  I know more details about her opinions and beliefs and what her kids are up to than I do about many people I see face to face who supposedly count as real friends by comparison.


I have met so many lovely people through blogging.  People whose words inspired me, or made me cry or laugh or think.  People who have contacted me based on what I wrote to offer helpful information or share a kind word when I needed it.  I believe strongly some of the best writing happening today is being poured into personal blogs by people who might not otherwise do writing I would see.  I love blogging.  It's a medium that makes me comfortable, being able to share thoughts in a way that's personal but freely available.  It's intimate yet not private. 

But what are these relationships formed through blogging?  They seem tenuous since they rely on such a fragile means of connection.  When my internet is down certain people I think of as being in my life vanish like ghosts.  I feel attached to individuals whose names and real life locations I don't even know, and yet I care about these people I've met online.

When I stop and think about it, however, I wonder when describing communication with fellow bloggers if 'met' is the right word.  There are people whom I adore and email with extensively, or who have reached out to offer encouragement and support, but have technically never 'met.'  Those virtual friendships are important to me even if I may never get to see those people in person.  I worry for Jane's daughter battling cancer, and Peg's family dealing with complicated relationships, and am confident Rach would give me crafting advice if I ever need it.  At what point does 'meeting' someone in a traditional sense even matter?  I'm not sure.

In some ways it's easier to feel connected to my virtual friends since they are always as close as my laptop and the updates are so regular.  I wish any of my relatives or friends from back home blogged because I would love to feel as in touch with the details of their lives as I do with the people I know online.

I get asked once in a while if it's weird talking with people I don't know who feel they know me because they read what I write in this space.  And the truth is I find it a relief.  I love not having to get new people up to speed.  So much easier when they know the cast of characters in my life already, and I can tell them new things without having to fill in too much background.  I wish more of the people I know personally read my blog because I wouldn't feel as if I were repeating myself in so many conversations.

I have one friend in particular who understandably does not have time in her crazy schedule for blogs, and every week when I meet up with her to team-teach a student, she enthusiastically asks about details of my life that I usually just posted about.  I often tease her by saying, "You haven't read my blog, have you?"  She always sheepishly admits no.  I really should stop doing that even though it's hard to resist because she's cute when she's embarrassed.  But it is surreal that a friend I see regularly generally knows less about what I'm thinking day to day than my regular readers in Canada, Israel, or the UK.

I wish I had more time face to face with people I like.  Even local friends with whom it should be possible are simply easier to reach online most days.  (We talk about getting together for a movie but have only managed it once in the last three years.)  That has more to do with drowning in small children than anything else.  Managing the intersection of five lives in a home is simply more involved than if I were only in charge of my own schedule.  I'm grateful for my online life on the days when the offline one keeps me tethered to the house or work.

I read often how people fret that we are becoming less connected with so much technology in our lives, but I don't think that's the case.  It's a tool like any other which can do harm or good as people choose to implement it.  There is nothing I value more than time together with people I love, but that doesn't mean other kinds of connections aren't meaningful as well.

One of the most powerful pieces I think Roger Ebert ever wrote on his blog was one entitled All the Lonely People.  The outpouring of comments from people for whom the internet is a lifeline was astonishing, and in a followup post Mr Ebert said he had no idea his words tapped into people so deeply.

But that's the beauty of connection.  We don't always know whom we impact or why, but it all ties together.  Sometimes it just takes a while for language that defines what those connections are to catch up.

25 comments:

  1. I can relate to this so much.

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  2. I love my virtual friends. I, too, think that the internet has been a wonderful tool for building community because it is so much easier to find a large pool of people with whom you share common interests. Anyone who doubts the validity of online friendships has simply failed to experience one yet. :-)

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    1. I agree. The people who don't understand why I make the effort to blog just don't know how meaningful it can be. And I think for certain groups of people, online communities can be essential because like-minded people may be few and far between.

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  3. I love that Roger Ebert piece. What an amazing man. I am often torn--I feel like the internet is the enemy of productivity, or of real interactions in the real world, or of going outside, or of paying attention, or of getting my ass off the sofa and out doing something, anything--and then I'm reminded how great it is. For one thing, it's how I met you.

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    1. I miss you when you unplug! But then I picture you writing another wonderful short story that I will get to read and call it a sacrifice for art.

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  4. Darn - I had no idea he had a blog! And I agree with you, I wish the people I know IRL would read my blog, if only to be caught up on what is going on with me. It's tiresome to rehash it, and I'm more entertaining on my blog than in person.

    By the way, that finding time to get together thing? Doesn't get any easier when the kids get older, and I have no idea why.

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    1. Poke around the Ebert Journal archive if you ever have the time (she said, knowing you have six kids and rooms that keep ending up with the walls torn down). Some wonderful stuff there.

      I don't buy for a minute that you are less entertaining in person.

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  5. You are a wonderful writer and I have learned a lot about you through reading...but you are still BEST in person.

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    1. Thanks, Mama. (You're not biased at all!)

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  6. I agree completely. I really do feel like blogging and social media make me feel more connected to other people, not less. Of course, it's not exactly a substitute for in-person interactions and relationships, but it's a wonderful supplement.

    That said, I hope we get a chance to meet in person -- very soon! (And thank you, of course, for your caring and concern re. Clio.)

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    1. Navigating your boat voyage through Clio's cancer with you through your blog has been harrowing, so I can't even fathom how you live it with such strength and humor. I'm proud to know you, in any context.

      Hope we can get together while I'm in your town soon! (Sign my copies of your books?)

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  7. I believe that my life has been enlarged beyond what I could ever imagined through blogging so I completely understand and agree with what you have written. This was a beautiful memorial to Roger Ebert, btw.

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    1. Your blog touches so many. I'm sure you have only the vaguest idea of how many people your words make an impact upon. (I'm certainly grateful for it.)

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  8. I've written similar things before. I've "met" so many wonderful people through blogging--folks who have come along and enriched my life. I refer to them as "friends" (yes, you're "my bloggy friend Korinthia") for I have no other way to identify them.

    Some of us put so much of ourselves into our blogs it's hard to not feel like you "know" them.

    As for the crafting thing? Well, I maintain YOU could teach ME a thing or two. ;o)

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    1. Thanks as always for reading, my bloggy friend Rach!

      You introduced me to washi tape. And my projects are such freaky unwieldy things I don't know if there's much anyone else can learn from them. You make crafting look so efficient and orderly I always think "I want to do that!"

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  9. First, thanks for linking the Roger Ebert blog. I loved his writing and had no idea.

    I tell people about my blogs friends all the time and definitely consider you one of them. I've only told a few IRL friends about my blog.

    So one of our mutual blog friends Rach lives in Williamsburg VA and I've been there 3 times in the last month. As I walk around CW, where she runs every morning I've caught myself looking for her. I'm sure we'd be friend IRL, but I feel weird reaching out and asking for a face-to-face. Not sure why.

    I see something about violins and I think of you. I see a bug thing and I even think of your brother :) Green Day played at a concert site about 3 miles from our house and I immediately wondered if Mel from stirrup queens was there--she was :)

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    1. The first time I talked to a blogging friend on the phone it was nerve wracking. She even said to me, "I feel like I'm on a first date!" Writers are just more comfortable writing, I guess.

      But that said, if you ever come to Milwaukee and don't stop by? I will get pouty.

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  10. This strikes a chord. I often fight the feeling that I should be focusing on "real life." That my time spent on line - even though I feel like I have a good balance between computer time and other time - is wasted. It can be and then again there are these connections, these friendships, that couldn't have happened otherwise. And I agree with you 100%, there's killer writing on blogs. I've learned so much by reading them extensively.

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    1. You have no idea how often I quote your writing to people I know. Your words are so powerful and lovely and unflinchingly honest.

      Thank you again for volunteering your help with my recent essay. I did not make the LTYM show, but a site called Rewire Me bought it, and I'm recording it for my local public radio later this week! I'm not entirely sure that would be happening without your encouragement. You're great.

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  11. Oh Korinthia, thank you so much for your kind and eloquent words as always. I understand this post so very. It's kind of funny to think of a distinction between "blogging" friends and IRL friends because honestly, some friends I've met online have become closer than any I met through work or at the kids' school, and truly, I see there more! We've discussed it, and there's something about connecting through our values and shared experiences that in a way can be more meaningful than connecting because we live on the same block or our children share a gymnastics coach.

    I guess there's all kinds of ways to make connections these days, and it's just one more. And you're right--we don't know who we impact and why. Just as I didn't know how you felt about my post; and just as Roger Ebert didn't know how I felt about him.

    You're amazing. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you, Liz. Your blog inspires me and exemplifies what a great blogging community can be. It made me so sad to know you were hurting. I wish you nothing but the best and look forward, as always, to your next post.

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  12. i never really thought this through but you are so right. I now worry about and think about people I have never known. Your blog is such high caliber writing is it truly an example to us all!

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    1. That's very kind of you, Lisa.

      There are days I think of online friends like online shopping, in that I get something I need from out in the world while staying in my pajamas. (How is that for high caliber writing!?)

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  13. I used to blog very regularly for probably 6 years or more. Now I just don't make the time for it, but I can fully relate to the feeling of repeating myself to my friends. My whole life was online so I always found it odd when friends would say I never shared what was going on in my life. Oh well. ;)

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