Saturday, October 21, 2006

Question of the Week #11: My New Friends

I've made some new friends recently, and I'm quite fond of them. These relationships are a bit unusual, though, because I know very little about these people. In most cases I don't know what they look like, where they live, or even their real names. I know them by their online handles -- made-up names like JellyHead and AZGoddess, or partial names like Melli, Julianna and Lori. I'm talking about the group of people who make a habit of dropping by this site and leaving comments.

As I surf around and read other blogs, I notice most sites tend to be visited by a group of regulars. It's obvious from the comments that many of the visitors have been to the site before and the comments on any particular day are part of ongoing online relationships. I bet you have a group of regulars who visit your blog. It's only natural; we all have our blogrolls, our daily reads.

It's amazing to me how much of the individual personalities come through in this limited form of interaction. From the comments I receive, I get to see how specific individuals react to a variety of issues. I get a sense of who tends to be agreeable and supportive (which is nice), and who likes to sink their teeth into issues, really think them through and offer alternatives to consider (which can amount to the same thing and is equally nice). I've gained a great deal of respect for the regulars on this site, and as I write my posts I find myself looking forward to hearing what they will have to say about the issues involved.

The whole process reminds me of characterization techniques used by fiction writers. When we read a novel, we meet the characters in a very limited way. We get to see them for only a brief period, and we only see the scenes that the writer chooses to show us. We must build a picture in our mind of what they look like based only on descriptions, and more to the point we get a sense of their personalities by the few words and actions in those scenes. Nonetheless, literature offers many examples of beloved characters. You probably have a few favorites of your own.

So tell me about your experience in interacting with the regulars on your site. How would you characterize this type of relationship? Do their individual personalities shine through? Do you find you develop a special kinship with some? Do you get the sense you are experiencing their true personalities (as opposed to the above cartoon)?

As always, I will post my personal favorite comment next Saturday with a link to the respondent's blog.

17 comments:

  1. Ah, Internet Reality... where the only reality is that some people lack a life and must live vicariously through their online persona!

    My blog readers for the most part, and honest and down to earth folks. Some of them are dear to me, and I can almost envision meeting with them at a coffee shop and laughing about all the silly things that are going on in our lives. These are the 'human' people, ones who are not ashamed to say they are far from perfect, and who share a photograph of their bad hair days. I cherish them. Many of them don't leave a comment, but will send me an email, which opens up this wonderful e-Dialog between the two of us that can go on for days.

    I am also an avid chatter, and that is a far different forum that a blogger community. In seems that, in chat, the monitor becomes a curtain, and many people play the part of the Wizard of Oz. They portray themselves in a manner that only leads me to believe that they truly do lack a real life (plus, it is hard to be a famous pastor, rap or country star, big time businessman, or snobby socialite when one spends 12 hours a day in a chat room!) Their profile photos, if any, are usually posed (if not stolen from an actual person without permission) and show nothing of how they actually are. Pay not attention to that man behind the curtain! Look at the image that I portray instead!

    Not all chatters are that shallow, I should add. Many are down to earth, and secure enough to let the world know that they are middle aged, married, and not glamorous or hip. These are the ones I tend to gravitate to, if only because I am happily the same.

    I have met some good 'online friends' through both the chat and blogger forums. The key is to always remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

    As for your readers... I enjoy their viewpoints. They are supportive of you, but they are also intelligent thinkers who take the time to offer their own advice and point of view.

    Cheers!

    Toni

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  2. I am a recent addition to the Blog forum so I do not have "regulars".

    To make any connections though, be it online or in real life, people have to be genuine.

    To write with passion usually means revealing a little about who we are. If we are too afraid to be honest, then we are too afraid to make those connections.

    If someone is not genuine, it will come out in their writing.

    The Blog for me is an outlet to articulate whatever thoughts, feelings or experiences I have. If they impact others, then great! If it leads me to meet other like-minded individuals, then those are likely the online community that I will embrace in friendship.

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  3. Most of my readers are great! I have had a few bad ones, ehre and there, but it's just like real life-- most of the people you meet are generally not so bad :) And you even like quite a few of them! I think the ones who stick around your site tend to have something in common with you, which is why your writing resonates with them. I must admit to loving my readers and commentors! I started to write out of passing the time in a journal or my wait. I never meant to attract readers really. But I love them :) Actually, since we emailed, I believe you have my last and middle names as well! LOL!

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  4. You know, I find that I share some common life experiences with the people who visit my site (and I visit theirs). I suppose I attract people with my name, that implies ties to Cairo, and in turn, I seek out blogs that I can relate to. It is a weird relationship in some ways, since we don't see each other in most cases and can't be sure that what people are typing is really the truth.

    My biggest concern are the people who visit blogs and seek out resentful and aggressive dialogue. I don't get that. Those regulars are the kind I wish to avoid!

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  5. I agree wholeheartedly. I have thought about this myself as I journey through Blogville. I loved your comparison of our online buddies as characters in a fiction book. That is exactly how it is. We are only privy to certain aspects of their lives and we only give access to certain aspects of our lives.

    An enjoyable read as usual,
    Catherine

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  6. Ah, ha! Now we must address the issue of whether it is a "relationship" if you never meet the person face-to-face. I think it has even more depth and meaning than perhaps the relationship one forms with their favorite clerks at the post office, or the people in their insurance agent's office. These acquaintances are "regulars" in my life, but I seldom feel inclined to share the kinds of things I pour into my blog.

    So, the folks who frequent my blog--and there aren't many--are special to me, because they reach out to me from across the vast wasteland of cyberspace. I don't feel quite so alone...

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  7. ROFL! Andrew... I really AM Melli! That is what everyone in the UNIVERSE knows me as ... not just bloggers!

    I have many many VERY good on-line friends. And some of the people who visit my blog are people that I have "known" in a cyber world for 7 or 8 years now! Some I've met through different "groups" I belonged to ... and one group of ladies (13 of us) who have been friends for many years - have a private message board where we stay in touch daily! These people all followed me to my blog ... well, actually one of THEM started blogging first ... and then several of us followed! But these are women who I am VERY VERY close with -- and actually met 2 while I was in Texas last year. Another has visited me in Maryland. I'm hoping to get us ALL together in March or April for a big REAL LIFE get-together! And ONE of them is planning to come all the way from Denmark!

    Still other friends are newer to me -- just since I started blogging - which is only 8 months ago! Yet, already I've met Carmen ... and I hope one day VERY soon to get to meet up with Lazy Daisy. And Flip Flop Floozie and I have very definate plans to meet also -- we just don't know when yet!

    I don't think of my "on-line" friends any differently than my neighborhood friends. I grow just as attached and I am just as concerned over their well being, and the well being of their families and their neighborhood friends.

    To me... I didn't start a blog to be someone I'm not. I started it to share my dieting adventure with the on-line friends I already had actually! So the me that's in my blog is the same and REAL me that everyone else knows. Ya either like me or ya don't -- but I think everyone that HAS met me would agree that what ya read is what ya get! And in every case SO FAR, I have found the same with the friends that I have met! My husband calls my "on-line" friends my "invisible" friends -- he doesn't read my blog or theirs and though I've shown him pictures of most of them, he doesn't remember and associate a face with the names ... so to HIM they are invisible. But whether they are invisible or visible, a friend is a friend and I love them all the same!

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  8. What I have found, in my own experience, is an immediate connection with a handful of my 'regular readers' and even cross-over from cyberspace to real-life chats.

    I had the opportunity to go to a 'bloggers lunch' and it helped deepen some friendships and it immediately splintered others.

    Honestly, I wouldn't do it again. There are a couple of people I would like to meet in person, but only in a one-on-one environment, not in some large scale arena. That is just too far outside my comfort zone and frankly we only know the person by what they share.

    It reminds me of moving alot as a child and my parents always reminding me I could re-invent myself. I never 'bought it'. I am who I am and that will never change by THAT much.

    The reality is finding enough comfort in who I am to be that same person both in person and online!

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  9. Wouldn't it be fascinating to do a study on this phenomena - blogging. Definitely we have established relationships - but how to describe them? And as we were commenting on one blog, we are beginning to think in terms of "Can we blog this?" Or "I should have my camera so I could blog this." Which led to my comment of maybe we are starting to live to blog, and then could we go deeper to where the blog becomes the reality, and life the acting out for the blog? Or some other variation. Andrew, you are the psych man, what do you think of this blogging phenomena? Electronic relationship?

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  10. Ooops, forgot to answer your questions: Yes, I think the blog community I am involved in is a bunch of fairly honest people with wonderful personalities which definitely come through in their blogs, and I believe that, for the most part, yes I am experiencing a good deal of their "real" personalities. (And, I'm not a normally trusting person). One young blogger, I feel much concern and care for. One is a good friend in real life. Some I would really miss if they dropped away from my blog. I don't know how to characterize the kind of relationships blogging brings about - that is the fascinting unknown to me - I have considered the fact that there are many factors: too busy to interact except late at night when everything else is done, but the computer is there - ill & house bound? - need relationship, but avoiding true intimacy? - no one "like you" around to interact with? - love of the internet and communication around the world? A lot of my blogger friends are from other countries. After putting these comments together, I am eager to hear your thoughts!

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  11. I think the regular readers of my blog are who they say they are. Most are honest, real people and we've developed a relationship. People also know me because I write humor columns for newspapers, so some have come to be my friends via that avenue.

    I yam what I yam. :) I go by my real name and I am who I am. I've met some people in the real world that I first met online. Several in fact. It's been a wonderful experience.

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  12. Most of the "regulars" on my blog are my real life friends. When you have a job, kids and family, it's very hard to keep up with friends. We usually see each other once a month at a book club meeting but that's not nearly enough time to exchange all the gossips and whine about our husbands. One of the members started a blog last year and the rest is history.

    There are other friends of mine that I've met in cyberspace years ago and now turned into real life friends. We have arranged various meetings throughout the years, and know each other fairly well. My cyber friends are usually not much different than real life friends, as in, there are cranky ones and there are sincere, intelligent ones. One's education, mannerism and personality comes through via media, be it face to face interaction, email, or blog entries and comments.

    Blogging, just like Internet in itself, is a communication tool. Chainsaws are created to chop down trees, but some would rather cut up fellow human. It's up to us to decide how to use the tool.

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  13. I find that most of the relationships I’ve developed with other bloggers to be at this point pretty superficial. I would probably categorize them as one step above acquaintance. They’re like the people that you constantly run into and talk to at various social events and you know the names of their children and spouses, you know what’s going on in their lives to a small extent, but that you wouldn’t call to set up a date or wouldn’t buy a birthday present for.

    I find that most of these people are a lot like me. They like to listen to themselves talk, don’t take themselves too seriously and find other people’s lives utterly fascinating. I started my blog because I needed a place to clear out the foggy recesses of my mind. I tend to talk about almost anything and you could definitely say I have a distinct viewpoint of the world. My “regulars” tend to share that viewpoint or like myself, are interested in reading other different viewpoints.

    None of my “regulars” try to offend but they can get pretty passionate about what they believe. And yet they are never ever offended when you passionately disagree with them. They’re not into belittling or demeaning others. And they certainly love a good appropriate or inappropriate joke. And overall they are a pretty supportive group.

    Now do I think I’m getting their true personalities? Well I’m getting as much as you can get from the written/edited word. And I’ve been known to be highly suspicious of various goings on that they discuss. But I think that suspicion actually comes from my personal bag of garbage and overall I think I’m getting a true version of a piece of their personalities. You know, the piece that’s not hidden by the fear of having to talk to actual live people.

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  14. Anonymous8:03 AM

    I would characterize the relationship I have with fellow bloggers akin to sitting on the front porch of an evening in the generations before airconditioning and television. Some folks you come to know very well that way, others just pass by--giving a friendly nod or wave as they go (or ignore you or whatever!). I HAVE developed a special kinship with some…those who stop and visit for a while and keep coming back week after week. They become a part of my life, just like the folks who regularly stopped along their way to exchange a bit of conversation would have been in years past. And, then as now, some people are very honest in their interactions and some try to find who they want to be as they try on different styles.

    I am from the generation that grew up without computers in the home. My little sister, a decade younger, became computer savy in high school . Not surprisingly, she embraced what is available via computers a lot sooner than I and with less trepidation. She has been blogging for six years now. From the beginning, she always used her own full name and never took the security precautions that most might be advisable. I followed her blog for many years and watched the relationships developing between her and her readers (the readers who commented regularly, that is). She had about 500 clicks a day onto her sight. That is a lot of folks. But there were about fifty or so who she interacted directly with on a regular basis (via comments/replies). It was odd to me, “eavesdropping” (as I seldom commented on the blog itself), at first. And, in the beginning, I remember thinking that what was happening was unhealthy. I could see that my sister was gaining a lot of emotional support from these “fictitious friends”. I felt like she was directing some of her needs to them that would better have been met by her own family members in a more private fashion (say her older sister!). But, over time, I saw how wrong I was. She did not have “fictitious friends”…paper friends who would one day blow away in the breeze or wilt in the rain. She had very real, very flesh and blood friends. When her young daughter needed a liver transplant, her internet friends gathered around her and they were a continual presence…able to connect with her via her husband’s laptop computer in the wee hours of the morning as she sat in the ICU room, her arm resting gently against her small daughter as the ventilator cycled through its endless rhythm. Her internet friends didn’t take the place of her family…yet, somewhere along the way, the became a PART of her family…an extended family…a community of support and love that we so often yearn, but fail to find in this day of conveniences and self sufficiency. When my little niece had devastating complications after her second liver transplant, I saw packages arrive in the mail DAILY throughout her very long and complication ridden hospitalization. The packages most often contained a crayon drawing from the sender’s own child and a few sheets of stickers or something equally simple…but they were a life line to my little three year old niece. Her day revolved around the mail delivery. It was one of the few bright spots and predictable occurrences in her very painful and unpredictable circumstances. Did those packages arrive from her family? No…her family was there at the hospital surrounding her. Those packages arrived from the internet friends I had once thought of as my little sister’s “paper friends”.

    My little sister’s “paper friends” have stuck by her through thick and thin. I have seen them write things to her that I believed with all my heart, but could never have VOICED to my little sister for fear of damaging our relationship. Many of her “paper friends” (particularly the newest ones, in turn) give unconditional support and “feel good” feedback to whatever she writes (and my little sister is at times brutally honest in her writings about herself, her circumstances, her feelings, her struggles). But the old timers KNOW her and have invested their own lives into hers and they tell it to her like it is. I have been stunned at times by their honesty…and grateful. There are some things a little sister can hear from a friend that she would not listen to from a sister. I have seen what began as “paper friends” grow into hard core friends--even if she doesn’t know their real names or where they live. I do not esteem so carelessly anymore the new “paper friends” who begin dropping in on her blog…because I have seen how such paper friends are sometimes the seedlings of very real relationships that are as deep and meaningful as any other in this world. And not all of her internet friends remain faceless and nameless. Some have connected with her beyond the internet after years of knowing her only through the internet…like the family who opened their lake front home up to her and my two young nieces last summer. My little sister was feeling the need to get away for a vacation, but thought it was not realistic to try and do so considering my niece’s precarious medical condition. Then, one of her “paper friends” wrote to her telling her that she had a lakefront home just outside of Chicago (the city where my niece’s transplant doctors are)…would my little sister like to bring her children and come visit them for the weekend? My sister did just that and she and her girls had a wonderful, much needed get-away…a lakeside getaway closer than their own home to the hospital that my niece spends so much time at and costing nothing other than the gas to get there.

    “Paper friends”?…I have learned to be careful what I deem lightly! An internet friend can be as much or as little, as deep or as shallow as any other relationship we seek to develop.

    ~Monica

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  15. Anonymous8:05 PM

    I have met many people on line through the backgammon rooms and here in the blog world and some have become good friends, one was my partner for a while.
    I will stick to the blog world because I find it’s more personal meeting people here because of the information that is shared with the reader.

    Even though we don’t know the people we read daily as we do in the unvirtual world, we do connect with some of them because of what they write and the connection it may have with your life.
    In many cases we can relate to their situation and offer help or support through our comments where we feel we may be able to help.
    After a period of time a certain amount of trust develops and friendships blossom.
    Emails and IMing begin to each other and before you know it you can’t wait to go on and talk to your friend.

    It’s also easier speaking to people in a blog because of the anonymity it provides and you can be as personal as you wish on a blog without having people you know personally criticizing you.
    This also brings readers closer to you.
    If your read a person long enough and their writing is good, you can be drawn in as if you were reading a novel.
    You feel their pain or happiness along with their victories as well as defeats.

    In some ways this is no different than when we used to have pen pals with the only difference being that the medium has changed and is in real time as opposed to waiting weeks to get a letter.

    I know I have many friends on line and I have over 150 names on my MSN and Yahoo.
    Some of my readers are there and we talk almost daily.
    I know I have 10 or so regular readers I speak to and when I don’t I wonder if they are ok.
    This is just another aspect of my life right now.
    I still go out and do what I need to do, life does go on but when I am home I talk with these people.
    If anything it has replaced the TV with reality and these people have become part of my extended family.

    Some of my close online friends have my home phone number and address.
    Over the last year I decided I was comfortable enough for me allow this and it’s great hearing their voices and slowly putting their whole picture together.
    I would love to meet then in person and some day soon I will.
    Not all of this takes place over night.
    I am very accessible the email on my blog and I do answer all of them but that doesn’t make us buddies.

    I read my blog roll. which is over 70 blogs but I talk to a handful of them outside of our comments and I don’t have extended conversations in the comment box unless it’s a debate.
    This is the ultimate reality show that never ends.

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  16. Hey, Jellyhead is my real name, too! ;)

    I think you get a good sense of people's personalities over time in the blog world. What they say is revealing; it requires great effort to be someone you are not in the long term.

    I have a lot of affection for my regular readers - I don't think there's a single one I wouldn't enjoy meeting in real life. Of course, some readers I relate to more than others.

    About a year ago, one of my regular readers asked me to e-mail her, not realising that I keep my e-mail address private. However, I had been exchanging comments with this reader for some time, and I liked her and felt her to be genuine. We started e-mailing, then began to IM each other as well, and more recently we have talked on the phone. We`are in contact every few days, and she had become a 'real friend'. I would have never thought it possible (or even advisable!) to make friendships in this way.

    The fact is, my closest friends to this day are the ones I made in high school. My more casual friends are all from university days. I haven't made a new close friend in over 15 years. The internet allows these new connections, because you can e-mail each other at your leisure; you can IM when it suits for just a few minutes. I didn't think I could 'fit in' another friendship, and yet with my friend in the US, it has worked, and it is a real joy!

    I am well aware that our friendship hasn't been tested by spending time together - I realise we would find out things about each other that we may not like, were we to meet. Yet I don't think there'd be too many surprises - I know, for example, that my friend is grumpy in the mornings, that she's irritable when sleep-deprived, that she is a self-confessed princess who 'doesn't do camping'. She knows I am a worrywart who can be hypercritical. We probably don't know each other as well as most 'real-life' close friends, but we know each other much better than many 'real-life' casual buddies.

    It's a weird old world, isn't it? But good weird!

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  17. If you've been hanging out, on line, with a person long enough, you can and do get a sense of who they are. If he or she is not being truthful about who or what he or she is, it WILL come out. Just like in *Real Life*, there are people who will scam you, for whatever reasons, and it may take some time for you to see the cracks in their facades.

    Too often, though, in our desperation to connect with others, we take do not take the time to actually learn who these other people are. We take them at *face value* or, worse, we take one or two days (or posts) and make judgements of them based on that.

    It's not a real life vs. cyberspace thing--it just is the nature of human beings.

    What I've found, in my journeys in reading blogs, in forums and in chatrooms is that people who have low self esteem or other issues they refuse to address, tend to manipulate others, or allow themselves to be manipulated. Those behaviors, if seen on the internet, in my opinion, are almost always evident in their non-internet interactions also.

    Just like in real life, it's impossible to know the back story of others. You only find out who people really are when you take time to listen (or read) what they are saying.

    Viewing others through the myopia of our own preconceived ideas happens everywhere.

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