This is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for a while now. A while back I was talking to my one good friend I made at university about the friendships I made through blogging. I had told her about my postcard bulletin board and how bloggers from around the world were sending me mail. And I even told her how I thought it was amazing that so many people thought highly of me and that some were even willing to open up about their lives to me online.
Her response: “But they don’t really know you! Why would they send that stuff to a stranger?”
That sort of caught me off guard. And ever since then, I haven’t been able to get it off my mind. I’ve talked to both my mom and Dave about it. I’ve thought on it. And I think I’ve finally come to a conclusion that I thought I would share with you all.
You Know Me As Well As Anyone Else Knows Me
Okay, you don’t know me as well as my family does, or as well as Dave. (I think the only person who can really say that in the blogosphere is Kelley, and that’s only because we’ve been emailing each other ridiculously long and personal emails for over a year now. Speaking of which, Kelley, what the heck happened to those?!) But I would say you know me just as well as those people I meet and interact with in my daily life. You know little things about me here and there.
You know that I met my favorite author ever (Patrick Ness) at my first ever author event (for a different author). You know that I left home in the States to come to London to study for a Publishing MA (and be with my long-distance boyfriend). You also know that I’ve struggled with depression (both in the past and sometimes even now).
I don’t quite see how that’s any different from others who I interact with on a daily basis who tend to only know bits and pieces of me like you do. Sure, your knowledge of me may be a bit more on the bookish side of things, but that’s the same as most friendships. You bond over your common interests.
I think there’s a tendency for people who are not comfortable with the internet to distrust everything that comes with it. They don’t trust the people they talk to. They don’t trust the sites they visit. The don’t trust it’s ability to replicate real life. And while I think many of their fears are reasonable, especially when a majority of the information you hear online is news about unhealthy addictions or Catfish-esque situations where people are lying about their identity, I do think they are forgetting how the same issues occur in real life.
People trust that the person they’re talking to is who they say they are, even when it’s highly possible that person isn’t telling the truth. People build relationships with other people in person, even when they don’t really know much about them. Their are places that people visit, even when there are warning signs that some shady stuff might happen there. To me, it is two sides of the same coin.
The difference is people’s willingness to try it. For many of us who have joined online communities, whether through games, blogs, forums, social media sites, etc., we have come to the realization that just because our communication is occurring through a computer it does not mean it is any less real than what we see in real life. It does not make the relationships less strong and it does not make the feelings less real. Sure, we may have times to process our thoughts before sharing something, and maybe our words are sometimes chosen with more care than in real life, but sometimes that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
That’s not to say we share ourselves with reckless abandon. No, just like in real life, it is always best to be cautious. Whether it’s using pseudonyms, or keeping your personal life completely private, or looking into the person you’re getting close to to make sure they’re real, it’s good to sometimes to be aware and check for warning signs. Even in a community as amazing as the book blogosphere, there can be some individuals who just hang out to cause trouble. Sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry.
But for me, I will never regret my decision to be myself online. While you may not know every single thing about me, you know just as much as anyone else in my real life. You are growing up with me just as much as the people in my daily life. And in some ways, I think you know more about me because this mediated communication makes it easier for me to share myself.
To me, the relationships I build with people online are real. To me, there is nothing wrong with people opening up to me or considering me their best friend, even though we have never met in person. To me, this online world is a part of my real world, and I find it harder and harder to separate the two.
I can’t imagine it’s surprising to any of you that I feel this way. I mean, I am currently in a different country due to meeting and falling in love with a guy I met online. But even though it’s sort of become a normal part of my life, I had never truly thought about whether people actually know me through it or if my life is any less real through it. And now that I have, I’ve decided no. If the things I build online aren’t real, neither are the things I build offline. To me they’re one and the same.
So if you’re a person who has reached out to me in any way, whether sending me postcards or writing me letters or tweeting or commenting or any of that, I want you to know that I truly consider you a friend. Not an “online” friend. But a true friend, and one that I value and appreciate. You may not know a lot about me, but what you do know is real. I am me, and I think you all know that.
It’s funny because when I started writing this post, I originally planned on including some things that I didn’t think you knew about me. I’ve decided that I will make it a Twitter thing instead. So every couple of days, I will share something that I think you might not know about me, and put it under the #TheQuirksofAsti hashtag created by Josephine. But, before that begins, let me just share a couple of things that I think are a little different about how I act online versus in person:
- I am a very emotional person. I shut down inside myself when feeling upset. I get really giddy and silly when happy. I storm off in a rage when angry. I just really can’t help but feel the feels when they’re happening. So while online I tend to generally always seem like this happy, positive person, that’s not always the case in person. I go through so many emotions in a day and while I can hide them effectively in professional settings like work, everywhere else I just don’t care and it’s all out there.
- I’m a bit cynical. I have little faith in people around me. I don’t trust people readily, and the smallest thing can easily put me off of a person. While I can be friendly with people and hang out, I have a hard time moving people from that acquaintance box into the friendship box because I generally just feel like they don’t really want to be my friend, they’ll only hurt me, and that’s it not worth the effort. I just expect the worse when it comes to people.
- I can have a cruel sense of humor. I grew up in a family where we always made fun of each other. So when I’m hanging out with friends and I feel comfortable with them, I tend to make fun of them. I never mean it in a cruel way, it’s just how I know how to be humorous. I usually try to only let this out when I know the person can handle it. And I always still try to make sure I’m respectful. But still, sometimes I’m sure it can go too far. It has when my family has made fun of me!