Thursday, June 14, 2007

The people inside my computer

My husband and I had a disagreement yesterday. Nothing ugly or heated, just a difference of opinion.

I bought a present for one of the people inside my computer. Nothing huge or extravagant, but she's in a rough patch and I wanted to cheer her up. This is, to me, no big deal. If she were my neighbor, I'd have taken her out or brought her dinner or just sat in the yard talking to her. But I can't do those things, so I did what I could.

When I mentioned what was going on and what I did, he thought I was completely bananas. "You don't even know this person! She's not your friend!" was his reaction.

Sure she is. Or is she?

Did you ever have a pen pal? I didn't, but I wanted to have one when I was a kid. I remember writing to kids who had little classified ads in some gifted education journal that my parents read (Pen pal wanted, girl, age 10, interested in ponies and chess). And nobody ever wrote back. I guess someone else had already gotten the "job" or was a better fit, or whatever. I remember feeling disappointed when, day after day, the mailbox contained no letter from Betsy, or Lisa, or Allie. Why didn't they write back?

Blogging's not like that. You don't pick just one blogger. (Well, I guess there are people on earth who would pick just one, but go with me anyway.) Blogging, unlike so many other things, is not exclusive.

Sure, it can be cliquish. I see it. I'm a little nervous about going to BlogHer for that reason. But there seem to be enough women who aren't busy being cool and high and mighty and unapproachable because their blogs have readership that exceeds mine by a factor of ten. There seem to be enough women who are yearning for that human connection. That connection is approached on the internet, in our blogs and open threads and emails, but is made real with face-to-face meetings.

And maybe, just maybe, that's where my husband and I can agree. Sure, the people inside my computer are real. They're human, flesh and blood, with lives behind those blogs. But perhaps I'm a bit too eager to call them friends. Perhaps he'll be more agreeable to the use of the word "friend" after I've met some of these people in Chicago.

I can't wait to meet these people that I already feel like I know well. What will that be like? Will we feel like strangers, or will we feel like old friends? Will I recognize them from their blogs? Will they recognize me?

And there it is. The people inside my computer see what I want them to see. They don't have access to all the memories, all the days I've had horrible hair or dorky clothes or whatever else. They don't have access to anything that I didn't say about myself. And in my blog, I have the opportunity to share what I want the world to see of me. True enough, most of my readers know me personally and so far nobody's confronted me and told me that I'm completely full of shit. So I guess it's fair to assume that the picture I paint of myself is a pretty accurate, if incomplete and sometimes slightly distorted, portrait.

My guess is that most blogs, or at least blogs I read, are pretty much the same that way. Mostly accurate, sometimes exaggerated, sometimes incomplete, portraits of real lives. Written by real people (and, as far as blogs I read, a vast majority are written by women who are mothers) who crave human connection.

A few months ago, I saw many comments on another blog that, when distilled, went something like this.

We (the readers of this blog, and writers of our own blogs) were similar kinds of girls when we were younger. We were smart and awkward and adolescence was hard. We weren't homecoming queens or cheerleaders but maybe we were in band or drama or debate club. We watched the popular kids with a combination of awe and disdain, both jealous of their social success and sneering at how superficial and false they were. Too bad we didn't all have the internet then; we could have supported each other through those years. It was hard, feeling so alone and different.

With the perspective of age (I've been old enough to vote longer than I haven't, at this point), I realize that it wasn't easy for the popular kids either. And adulthood is a great equalizer in so many ways. But no matter how they came to be, those teenage wounds leave scars, and I think many "mommybloggers" have similar scars. And we recognize each other as kindred spirits. As having had common experiences, even in different regions and different years.

So we're both right, my husband and I. These women, these people inside the computer, feel like friends. Yet they're strangers, really. There is a physical intimacy with friends that is unique to friendship. An easiness of sitting together. The sense memory of how that person hugs. What they smell like. And there is a wealth of detail that forms friendships. Knowing that my friend Kaki hates orange tea. Knowing that Jennifer loves lemon. The shared memories that can be invoked with a word or a phrase. "Remember that day when we got pedicures?" brings us to another time, another life. And those people inside my computer don't have those details, those shared memories.

But that doesn't mean we don't have anything. There seems to me a need for a new word, a new concept of friendship. Because "my internet friends" doesn't quite do the trick. It sounds downright creepy to some people (even to myself, really, if I think about it). But we're building a new world here, people. And we're redefining a lot about human interaction in general, friendship in particular.

And for a bunch of women who used to be bookish, awkward girls, the freedom to find friends who "get" us is awfully powerful. Maybe even empowering.

This post was written in response to the writing prompt at Mommy Blogs Toronto. You can do it, too!


Lizard Eater said...

Good post. I blogged about this recently, in terms of applying to seminary, and the fact that the ministers who will be doing my recommendations probably don't know me as well as the mins who read my blog. But they know me in "real life," so it's considered more real.

It's such an interesting concept to me ... that the blog is where we present ourself, so perhaps it's not as real as real life. But we often will admit things in our blogs that we don't admit to those in our real lives.

So which is more real? Who knows us better?


laura said...

Preach it!

It was the internet, in its nascent form, that literally saved my life. I formed tight, close-knit friendships with a group of women online who didn't care that I was depressed, wearing my jammies, hadn't showered or brushed my teeth. I could write and be *me* and not worry about the appearances - and that was *so* liberating. Without them I would NEVER have gotten to where I am now.

Bless the internet - and the lovely, smart, hip women who are a part of it!

laura said...


I just tagged you for a meme over on my blog. Come play!


LaReinaCobre said...

I was one of those bookish, awkward girls - and I had a lot of pen pals. They came and went, but they were a big part of my life throughout adolescence. Until you mentioned it, I'd never really made the connection between the pen pals and the blogging, but they are similar.

Some really powerful relationships have occurred between people who never met. Off the top of my head, I'm thinking of "Letters to a Young Poet," but there are others, too.

Her Bad Mother said...

The friends that I've made on the Internet are some of the best that I've ever had. And I don't say that lightly.

Great post!