There are all sorts of ways that the new digital paradigm is changing how we relate to each other. If you read Advice Columns, there are lots of questions about how to deal with your wife’s ex-husband on Facebook, or what to do if your boss sends you an invite to be friends. It’s all in flux, and many of the old rules of relationships need to be rewritten to deal with new venues.
The other day, a friend of mine posted on Facebook about Dragonbreath: Attack of the Ninja Frogs (which I highly recommend, by the way). I had the moment of “Squee!! I know the author of that book, Ursula Vernon!” And in some ways I do. I can tell you that her cat, Ben, has had some health scares lately. I know that she has an enormous chicken statue in her garden. I know all about her divorce, how much weight she lost through the stress of it, the amount of time she spent recovering, and her apparently pretty awesome new boyfriend. I know what she’s planted in her garden, and her favorite boots to wear to a Con. So I definitely know her. The thing is, she very likely does not know me, at all. I could walk up to her and tell her all my online identities, and she’d likely get a confused but polite expression. This happens to her a lot. She’s a very popular blogger/author/painter, and there are thousands of us who read her musings. Of course she doesn’t know us all back.
Then there’s my other BFF (Best Friend Forever), Amy Storch. Her sons are the same age as my sons! She’s gone through lots of the same things, but plenty of unique challenges too. Dude, Levar Burton once replied in Tweets to her post about the traumatic experiences she suffered with Reading Rainbow! She’s the friend you go to for advice about moisturizer choices, or who you want to get a pedicure with. We totally hang out all the time! Or, well, we would. Except once again, she may not even know who I am, although she did answer one of my questions in her advice column once.
Now, I might be feeling a little “oh woe is me no one knows who I am!” but this is an experience I’m encountering from both ends. I’m a small-time blogger (even smaller since I stopped being able to update daily). I average fewer than 75 hits a day (although much better when Boston.com puts me on the front page!) I suspect that 90% of my regular readers are people I know in real life. The rest of them are looking for radish recipes or night life advice for the Indian city of Thane. (Sorry googlers!) But I have definitely encountered people who know me quite well from my writings, who don’t write themselves. While I have some vague ideas about who they are, they know everything about me. That’s what it means, when you put yourself up here on the internet, and your friends, family, enemies, acquaintances and complete strangers can all see your life, laid out plainly.
In a real conversation there’s a back and forth. You learn some things, you share some things. In this new paradigm of online conversations, it ain’t necessarily so. Some people are only consumers of other’s writings…. they listen but they never share. My husband is one of these. Others only talk and never read. Most people do a balance of both. But all throughout the world, not only are people wrestling with what to do about the knowledge they obtained due to a drunk post by their former coworker, but they are dealing with these asymmetrical relationships, when the people they know best are not ones who even know they exist.
What about your online life? Are you a balanced creator/consumer of content? Do I know you? You know me, or you can know me pretty well with a cruise through my archives. Do you like the anonymity of reading? Do you wish it was more reciprocal? Comment, and turn my monologue into a dialog!