When reality and virtuality meet and clash

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

During my brief contract earlier this summer, a jarring moment occurred when I walked up to one of the people I worked with and saw that he was reading my weblog. I’ve never had such an obvious mix of the ‘real’ world and this virtual world before, and I found it uncomfortable. He’s a very likable person, friendly and personable and now a budding weblogger – but it was still a moment that stopped me dead in my tracks.

I don’t encourage my friends to read my weblog, though they are welcome especially if it helps me maintain contact with them. However, I don’t talk about it with my family, and hope that they’re too busy to check up on what I’m writing.

When I went back to San Francisco this last trip I had kind invitations for lunch and fireworks, from a fellow Wayward Weblogger as well as Marc Cantor, but the trip was a difficult one for me, and I wasn’t ready at that point to bridge the real and virtual. I will be, soon, and am planning on taking a few road trips later this summer to meet webloggers who live close by, as well as, hopefully, getting the interest of a few folks to stop by St. Louis this fall for the Open Aire Conference. Well, those folks who are on this continent and can therefore make it that is. I’d also like to attend a few of the St. Louis Bloggers get togethers, though I’m a bit shy of gatherings. Odd as this may seem to people from my obvious in your face style of writing, I’m rather a quiet person in ‘real’ life.

There’s that real/virtual life dichotomy again. I’m frankly envious of those who can mix the two so easily and effortlessly – you see their pictures out and about, hugging this person or that, attending gatherings and shmoozing with other webloggers. More, they not only tell friends and family about their weblogs, they encourage them to get involved with one of their own.

However, I have a strong suspicion that those people who write weblogs read by spouses, kids, and employers tend to write differently then people like me who are, for all intents and purposes, obscured from view because we’ve kept the two worlds far apart.

We’ve all seen webloggers who have pulled postings because they made family members unhappy. We’ve heard about people who have lost their jobs or been reprimanded for talking about their professional lives, even their personal lives online. We’ve also heard about the people who have met their spouses and close friends through online connections. This isn’t necessarily new. But what about the opposite?

What happens when someone’s real world breaks into the virtual? For instance, your sister, wife, mother, brother, son, husband starts dropping comments in your weblog or other weblogs? If it’s difficult at times to separate the real from the virtual in your weblog writing, how much more so is it when bits of that reality appear here and there, like scattered fluff from a dandelion?

Of course, if the ‘real’ person is integrated as part of the environment, and by this I mean introduced and encouraged to participate, as well as supportive of the weblogger’s efforts online, the mix of real and virtual works smoothly. For instance, there’s a certain man of faith who has gracefully and graciously bridged the gap between real and virtual with family, friends, and co-workers.

However, there have been times when I have made comments in other weblogs, and have been surprised and discomfited by the nature of responses made by the weblogger’s family and friends. Not recently, not often, but it has occurred a few times in the past. It jarred just as much as rounding that corner and seeing a co-worker reading my weblog.

The easy rapport that I had shared with the weblogger – the friendship I had assumed – was put into perspective. The associated to the weblogger by the real world responder was saying that no matter how much I may connect with the person, it will never be the same as the connection that person shares with ‘real’ people. With ‘real’ family. With ‘real’ friends.

But I am a real person. Even a real friend, though the connection is virtual. Not family, true. But I am a real person.

There are other times when the ‘real’ person disagrees with a weblog post made by their loved one, or with other weblog postings and comments, even to the point of seeming hostility. These leave you confused as you’re not sure how to react. You want to respond in kind, but then you remember your association with the weblogger and you hold back. Or you don’t, and then you worry if the weblogger will get upset because you just slammed their husband/wife/son/daughter/boss.

You might choose to stay silent, or be tempted to email the weblogger privately asking ‘permission’ to respond freely. Worse, you ask the weblogger what the ‘real’ person’s problem is, as if they’re accountable for this other person’s actions.

You also might wonder if the ‘real’ person resents the weblogger’s time spent within this medium, their associations they’ve made. Are their comments arising from interest, or as part of an effort to ‘punish’ the weblogger? Is it unfair to even consider this? Yes, it is actually. All of it.

We shouldn’t allow a person’s relationship with a weblogger to impact how we respond to them. If we do, then we’re just denying that weblogger the right to have their place in this virtual world. Conversely, we need to be able to respond to that weblogger as we want without being jumped on my the weblogger’s friends and family. Unfortunately, this one is less easy. I know this from personal experience, too.

Speaking of online friends, I wanted to congratulate Sheila Lennon getting married. I enjoyed reading about the experience and the cake and the plans and tired but radiant joy that lit her words. I wished I could have been there, licking the cake crumbs from my fingers at the celebration, but my best wishes are no less ‘real’ for not being there.

My good friend, and fellow Wayward Weblogger Chris is looking at new opportunities, which could be taking him to some pretty exotic ports of call. I wish him the best of luck with his decisions and his moves.

I also want to extend deepest sympathy to Jeff Ward at the loss of his father.

As for me, I was also offered a ‘real world’ opportunity from another weblogger that I had to, regretfully, decline. The circumstances just didn’t work out; too many barriers – health, timing, and economics – in the way.


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