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Online friends 2

I want to thank everyone for answering the last question; I started to post replies, and as usual, ran out of space, so I'm spilling things over into a second post.

I should make clear, here, that I don't consider it impossible to have online friends -- only that, as athenais said, I don't think it can achieve the multiple layers I look for in a close friendship. It has to go "live" at some point or it remains limited.

I also agree with whatemluv said (and thought it a very elegant way of stating same) The online thing is a wonderful way of meeting people and creating very focused discussions etc., but I think real, true friendship is too multi-faceted to maintain in cyberspace alone.

and last, lnhammer said: The past couple years, I've been slowly defictionalizing several friends I'd only known online. There's still a fair number, though, of strong aquaintances I only e-known.

All of these are points I think I'm about to address -- which is to say, I'm about to meander off the edge and around it a bit.

Reading is about the text, for me. This doesn't trivialize the online experience, or rather, it isn't intended to -- if anything, I mean the opposite. Reading is what started me on the long road to what I actually do with my life; it was, and remains, an intensely personal activity, in which the space between the text and the reader has a singular focus and intensity. It's stronger when what I'm reading is fiction, but it's strong regardless.

Some of the fanfic discussions spill into this, in a way that I'm sure they weren't meant to, because in some sense, what I read, how I experience what I read, is mine. This doesn't mean that I have an interest in writing anything at all about real people, but I think lnhammer's use of the word "de-ficitionalizing" was very apropos, if possibly unintentionally so. To some level, when I'm dealing with text, my relationship is with the text itself, and in an oddly amorphous way, secondarily with the writer.

I'm aware of this. When I was on GEnie, I was in fact so aware of this that my speaking voice, my "me" voice if you will, seldom filtered out into public discourse -- I was trying to speak clearly, to get the text of the message across, and as I knew I had no real ability to respond to the responses of the silent lurkers, I wanted to make my posts as bullet-proof as possible, where in this case, bullet-proof meant inoffensive. Not that I mind giving offense when it's merited, but rather, that I wanted to be certain I didn't give offense where it wasn't.

Because I was -- at that time -- so cautious in public posting, I was aware that my voice was distinctly different from my voice; that the text of the message was not delivered in the casual way I would normally deliver it (for one, less colourful language; for two a lot less gesticulating, which I tend to do at high speed, and for three, I speak really, really quickly in real life).

One thing I loved about the internet was the ability to have very focused discussions with like-minded people. Some of the things that fascinate me bore many, many people to death -- but in venues where e-communities gather, there's much less likelihood of this happening, because people tend to gather around mutual interests. Out of mutual interests like this, I did follow up in real life, I did make phone calls, I did have people come and visit me. My online-based friendships grew multiple layers when discussions wandered out of the realm of the focused topic and into more mundane things -- children, job stress, writing stress, family, other interests.

It's true that I don't see most of the friends who I initially met online all that often, usually for reasons of geography; it's also true that I've seen them at so many conventions or other separate gatherings, that I've built a sense of history with them, and that I do value them and consider them friends.

But regardless of the intensity of discussion online -- or perhaps even because of it -- I don't consider online-only to be entirely real; I consider it to be textual, with all that that implies. It can be intense, and personal in ways that only reading is -- but at the same time, I'm conscious of me, the text, and at the other end, someone who is interpreting themselves, filtering themselves, just as I do and did. I can understand how people feel like they're falling in love because of my reaction to and relation with text, with words, but I can't see taking that intensity and preserving it outside of the domain of text without a lot of other steps in between.

I expect that the online people I write to will be different in real life. I often expect them to bear little resemblance to what I read of their words online. I expect that they will find that I'm different, although, aside from manners (mine are, sadly, much better online), I can't predict how.

I don't need to meet people to value what I find online, and to prize it very, very highly -- but I don't have a word for what I do find online that doesn't somehow involve 'fictionalizing', the opposite of the de-fictionalizing that lnhammer mentioned previously. The sense of community is both personal and profound -- but at a remove, I'm not sure how much I'm reading into it and how much is already there, if that makes sense.


Comments

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stakebait
Dec. 15th, 2004 04:56 am (UTC)
It does make sense, though it always disconcerts me to meet people and find that they don't match up with their online personas -- that we're better online friends than we are off. I tend to expect that, no matter what else will be there in person that I didn't expect, the stuff I value online must be in there somewhere, and it's disconcerting to realize that it may be, but not in a way that I can access.

I have some people I consider friends, and not just acquaintances, who are online-only, but I don't know about close or best friends. Though I've definitely had romantic relationships develop online with little in person interaction beforehand, or some in person interaction, but none romantic. Something about the email medium allows for a greater intimacy of thought without self consciousness. So that when we meet again we can skip some of the more awkward in person steps, take some communion of thought for granted, and be able to use that to bring communion of action into alignment.
msagara
Dec. 16th, 2004 12:50 am (UTC)
It does make sense, though it always disconcerts me to meet people and find that they don't match up with their online personas -- that we're better online friends than we are off. I tend to expect that, no matter what else will be there in person that I didn't expect, the stuff I value online must be in there somewhere, and it's disconcerting to realize that it may be, but not in a way that I can access.

This is a terrific way of putting it; thanks. I think this happens a lot -- I can think of two people who were pretty much exactly what I expected when I finally met them in person.

Something about the email medium allows for a greater intimacy of thought without self consciousness.

I think it goes back to text. There's not a lot of point to email if you aren't going to say anything -- but in person, people have figured out a hundred different ways to not say anything (where people in this case, sadly, does not include yours truly).
rachelmanija
Dec. 15th, 2004 05:55 am (UTC)
I think my RL self is fairly congruent with my online persona-- people who knew me online first and in person later have said the only thing that really surprised them was my voice, which I think people expect to be lower. But then I talk fairly frequently about moderately personal things, so it's not going to surprise anyone that, say, I'm a leftist or a slob or five feet tall.

Most of the people I've met in RL have been pretty much what I would expect from their online persona, though I have had a few cases where, like someone said here, I couldn't access whatever it was that I liked online (if it was ever really there.) And I can think of a couple people whose online personas are bland or annoying but who are terrific in RL.

In regard to close online friendships, I once had a fairly close friendship which was conducted almost entirely over the phone-- this is unusual for me as I hate the phone, but in this case it began as a coast-to-coast business relationship, and we only met in RL recently. I've met all my closest friends in person, but there are people who are quite dear to me who I haven't ever met because we live too far apart. I wouldn't say they're my best friends, but then pen-pals rarely are; still, they're closer than a lot of RL not-so-close people.

That's not even getting into friendships which began in RL and are now conducted online or over the phone because someone moved.
msagara
Dec. 16th, 2004 12:52 am (UTC)
And I can think of a couple people whose online personas are bland or annoying but who are terrific in RL.

I can think of dozens of people of whom this is true, oddly enough. Many of them don't feel they have anything to say, absent the personal which they're not inclined to share; they don't have that problem in real life, but I'm assuming that's because they can accurately gauge interest, and feel more confident in it.
dancinghorse
Dec. 15th, 2004 06:05 am (UTC)
There's one aspect of online life that can be significant for those of us with disabilities. For me, real-life contacts are often difficult especially in groups, because I can't hear so much of what goes on. People whose speech is too fast or slurred or indistinct for me in realtime come clear in print, and I don't have to struggle to understand them. Some friendships wouldn't happen in realtime because I can't understand a word they say--I long ago developed a reflex of smiling, nodding, and escaping as soon as I can rather than press them repeatedly to speak up, move their lips, slow down--but they can happen online.

When you miss two-thirds of what comes through, being able to get it all is a godsend.

Yes, I do enhance the experience with real-life contacts, but online contact for me, much of the time, is more "real" because I'm not impaired or disabled there--I actually have an advantage in that I have to process data almost exclusively visually anyway, so seeing it rather than hearing it seems perfectly natural.

As for people playing personas--they do in real life, too. They just have to work harder in more directions. Some people are no more "real" face to face than they are in print.
sdn
Dec. 15th, 2004 02:27 pm (UTC)
i bet elisem could speak to this, too.
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(Anonymous)
Dec. 15th, 2004 01:51 pm (UTC)
I do agree that on-line is textual. Or rather it used to be textual. In the current crop of programs there are so many voice and image options that text in many cases been somewhat devalued. Not a great development in my books but things do keep on evolving.
sdn
Dec. 15th, 2004 02:28 pm (UTC)
i like getting to know people through reading their words online, but for the friendship to become "real," we need to talk to each other and/or see each other.

it's like meeting a penpal.
lnhammer
Dec. 15th, 2004 02:47 pm (UTC)
The word was not at all unintentional, for all those reasons (but with Judy's caveat about F2F personas).

I'm told I come across as shorter OL than in RL.

---L.
dancinghorse
Dec. 15th, 2004 04:27 pm (UTC)
ROFLMAO!
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thecityofdis
Dec. 15th, 2004 02:56 pm (UTC)
Once I've spoken to real-life friends online as well, I usually notice huge discrepancies - people come across as angrier online, edgier, more pretentious. (I'd imagine this is very true of me, as well.) And people that I know in real life, I tend not to like online.

The opposite is, thankfully, not true.

I'm not quite sure how that factors in to your post, but I felt it did. So, yes. I have spoken.
msagara
Dec. 16th, 2004 01:00 am (UTC)
Once I've spoken to real-life friends online as well, I usually notice huge discrepancies - people come across as angrier online, edgier, more pretentious. (I'd imagine this is very true of me, as well.) And people that I know in real life, I tend not to like online.

The opposite is, thankfully, not true.

I'm not quite sure how that factors in to your post, but I felt it did. So, yes. I have spoken.


I think it does factor into the post; it's the part of personality that's lost or flattened in translation. Oddly enough, I think I probably come across as angrier off-line than online, but I'm told that your case is the more common one.

I tend to 'hear' my real life friends when I read their posts, so the change in their voices from spoken word to clear text goes over my head.

Otoh, when I've spent a long, long time in email exchanges, I can find accents disconcerting because I a) love the sound of them and b) never read written words as if they were accented, unless they're spelled in a way that forces that reading.
prettyarbitrary
Dec. 15th, 2004 04:45 pm (UTC)
The sense of community is both personal and profound -- but at a remove, I'm not sure how much I'm reading into it and how much is already there, if that makes sense.

I think it makes sense. A problem with online-only interaction is that you can read into text in ways that the author didn't intend. Vocal inflection carries a lot of weight in face-to-face conversations. It's our primary way of conveying sarcasm, irony, and sympathy, for example. If the inflection is missing, especially in text that acts as a dialogue, we tend to provide our own guesses as to what was 'meant by that.'

Some writing styles are more open to this treatment than others, but generally in an online relationship, it means that you can't be sure how much of the other person's personality you're imagining. Or, how much of the other person's personality is actually you.

Is that what you mean?
msagara
Dec. 15th, 2004 04:52 pm (UTC)
Some writing styles are more open to this treatment than others, but generally in an online relationship, it means that you can't be sure how much of the other person's personality you're imagining. Or, how much of the other person's personality is actually you.

Is that what you mean?


Yes, with the addenda that sometimes what you imagine has a force and effect that you otherwise might not find.

There are also things that people are willing to write about in ways that they would be more reticent to just speak about in social gatherings, for a variety of reasons, and I become deeply attached to the writings, and through them, at one remove, the writers, because of this.

Recent example:

http://www.thecorpuscle.com/2004/12/how_to_live_wit.html

Which is an excellent post on the topic of grieving, which is so seldom covered in real life.
zhaneel69
Dec. 15th, 2004 09:55 pm (UTC)
I agree with much of you've said & John Scalzi said in his post.

For the friendship to solidify I need a physical meeting. Even only one. But something.

I am well aware that online is only a facet of who I am carefully controlled.

Zhaneel
(Anonymous)
Dec. 17th, 2004 05:36 am (UTC)
Some of the fanfic discussions spill into this, in a way that I'm sure they weren't meant to, because in some sense, what I read, how I experience what I read, is mine.

I've never had this experience. I have had powerful responses to text, but I've never any sense of ownership of that text or even that response.

To me, the text is a kind of loan (even if I paid for the book). I enjoy the hell out of it while I'm reading (hopefully) but once I'm done, it's not really mine anymore. Sure, the book is sitting on my shelf and I could pick it up anytime and try for the response again, but I never do. Besides, everyone else with seven bucks in their pocket could be enjoying that same text.

I enjoy driving a car, too, but I don't feel any ownership toward the rentals we sometimes get.

Thanks for this discussion. It helps me understand (among other things) fan fiction much better.

Harry Connolly
msagara
Dec. 17th, 2004 02:23 pm (UTC)
Some of the fanfic discussions spill into this, in a way that I'm sure they weren't meant to, because in some sense, what I read, how I experience what I read, is mine.

I've never had this experience. I have had powerful responses to text, but I've never any sense of ownership of that text or even that response.


It's the response itself that's mine, if you will; a better word in this particular case would be unique. The response exists between the text that someone else put down and my ability to read and comprehend it. Non-fiction in theory should be studied all of one way, should be understood clearly and without prejudice -- but it isn't, and we all take different things out of it.

My understanding of the text occupies that space between what was written and my reading of it. It's that part that I own: the response. Because it's unlikely to be anyone's else's. In a like fashion, I assume that any reader's respone to text is unlikely to be exactly like any other reader's response -- I've learned this the hard way over time. If no two writers work in exactly the same way to come up with their stories/novels/poems, etc., it's also true -- but often less obvious -- that no two readers read in exactly the same way.

I don't own my reader-response, however, in a MINE MINE MINE sense, but in a "who else would possibly want to" sense; as I said, unique might be a better word -- and it would apply to any reader, in my universe.

In the context of this discussion, that's all that meant; but it occurred to me that in the context of the wider-ranging fanfic discussions, the concept of that reaction could be applied to even the way in which we read online text of people we've never met and don't otherwise know, in any any other environment, because the relationship at that point is entirely textual, and therefore subject to ... that particular reader subjectivity that graces us all when we read.

To me, the text is a kind of loan (even if I paid for the book). I enjoy the hell out of it while I'm reading (hopefully) but once I'm done, it's not really mine anymore. Sure, the book is sitting on my shelf and I could pick it up anytime and try for the response again, but I never do. Besides, everyone else with seven bucks in their pocket could be enjoying that same text.

The text itself, to me, is inviolate <wry g>. I would not rewrite someone else's text. Actually, not even in my post reading haze (that would be the one in which the ending of a book would make me see, you know, red) do I have that desire, and if I'm reading and I'm picking up the adjective-killing pencil of death, I'm also... finished reading. Which means the book goes to one side.

Again, the response exists in the space between the text and the reader; it doesn't own the text itself, just the interpretation of it.

Thanks for this discussion. It helps me understand (among other things) fan fiction much better.

Harry Connolly


Okay, and now someone who's passing by, let Harry Connolly know that I've answered? Since, no LJ, no LJ notification <wry g>.
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