Can I have another piece of chocolate cake?
Tammy Baker’s got a lot on her plate
Can I buy another cheap Picasso fake?
Andy Warhol must be laughing in his grave!
—-Crowded House, ‘Chocolate Cake’
My laptop came back to life. And then died again. And then it came back. Maybe it’s got what Jen Trance has. Jen? Have you been sleeping with my laptop?
I’ve been thinking about the topic of on-line friends and real life meetings again.
I’ve covered this before. But for a number of reasons, It’s fresh in my mind.
First, I’m watching, from the sidelines, an ugly breakup – being played in public on orkut – of a couple who met, yes, on line, on orkut. It’s an ugly side to Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame; everyone shares your triumph, and then everyone clusters around to watch your failures. It’s like some weird cross section of fame, in effect, because you get some of the effect of being famous (people all over the place know your name and want to know your business), without the actual benefits (the money, and the, you know, actually being famous.)
Anyway, I wish the people in this couple well. They are both people I considered friends a week ago. I know for certain one will stay my friend, but I hope the other does as well. I don’t know if I hope the breakup takes or if I hope they patch it up. I only know I am rooting for happiness all around. Keep things simple. I care about you both, even if one of you turns out to be an asshole.
But there are other reasons I’m thinking about this. Bloggers are great fodder for the voyeuristic; Circe is over there agonizing about a man she met on line. Will she? Won’t she? Can she? Good luck, baby (And then even as I was writing this, they broke up, and she’s in pain).
It’s so easy to meet people on line. That’s the thing. So easy to say “Howdy there, good lookin’” and strike up a conversation. You find a gathering point and these things happen. And naturally pairings off will happen, and naturally, contacts on line will be extended to real life. Some of that’s just social. And that’s an easy one. Dinner, coffee, drinks, hanging out. Friends in real life like on line, casual and easy. But some times it’s a romantic hookup, or at least a sexual one.
The cliche of our era, right? How’d you meet? ‘We met on line.’
That used to sound incredibly geeky, or totally sleazy. And it’s still both of those things sometimes.
Sometimes it’s not though.
I look over my large catalog of friends – and I mean real life friends, people I may have at my house, some of whom were at my house last sunday – and I realize how many of them I in fact met on line or via on-line friends. Laura. Paul. Ray. Jeff. Elaine. Jennifer. Monica. Ron (Samuel I guess he is now).
These people are good fucking friends. Some of my my best friends, in fact. Met on line.
But it’s always strange meeting real, flesh-and-blood people in person after you know on-line personae. Sometimes it’s weird and awkward, sometimes people are not what they seemed, less or less interesting or socially awkward.
Sometimes it’s a happy surprise though. I met a couple of people for the first time at a dinner this week; a dinner I almost decided not to go to because it was friday and I didn’t feel like going out at the end of a long week. I went because my real-life friends Elaine and Paul.
But the people I met at this party turned out to be worth that trivial effort, and more. These were good fucking people, in all the right ways.
Fiends, I’m hoping, a for a long time. Certainly felt profound personal personal connections. But, well, I was drunk, maybe it was the tequila talking. Tequila does that, it talks to me, in a sweet, smoky voice. It tells me to do things. And usually, listen. And sometimes it tells me to forget, but not that night. I remember it all with crystal clarity, even if they’ve forgotten some of it.
The funny thing, though, is that sometimes this happens without ever meeting. The profound personal connection. The moment of “I just met people the universe needed me to meet.”
That doesn’t happen much. It’s easy to connect when you’re close enough to smell someone and inhale their pheremones. But long distance, across a world or a continent, you need some skills and some aptitudes.
It’s easier for writers, I think. Certainly it’s easier for readers. People who can express themselves in writing, who can read for nuance. People who can imagine vividly and richly.
I’ve got friends, sometimes very good friends whose company I enjoy, but we don’t really have that much to say to each other. With these people, an on-line relationship is all about a ‘hi, howzit, hello, goodbye’. But with writers and serious readers, you can have an entire, complex emotional, intellectual relationship without ever sharing the same zip code. It makes me understand how my ancestors could have carried out friendships of correspondence in writing across continents. In a way I envy them; when you had to wait a month for your letter to travel by sea, and another month to get one back, you took time to say much, and say it well; and you savored the read. Now, we find that email takes too long and we prefer instant messages and carry on conversations filled with single letter ‘words’ and acronyms for everything. So while we’re all spending a lot of time typing, we’re not really saying much.
Over the years I’ve developed a lot of faraway friendships. Some past, some seeming eternal, some still fairly new. People in Australia – originally when I worked at Sun and realized that our office in Milpitas, California and the Sun Australia office over-lapped on time zones. A made a few friends there, mostly in the context of music mailing lists. My first world-away written relationships. And since then, I’ve made friends far away; some in England, some Holland and Germany, a few in Asian (and some in Oz, – though I’ve done a horrible job keeping up – don’t forget me baby, even though I’m a big loser). I’ve also made a lot of friends recently in the southeastern or central US. Some of those people are going to be ships-passing-in-the-night, and we’ll lose touch. Others I’m barnacled to and won’t let go of – ever.
Friendship is funny. If you could make a recipe for it, a secret potion, imagine the power. But you never really know who you’re going to connect to. Not connect in a ‘we hang out and get along’ way; that’s just proximity and compatibility. But connect in such a way that you know you’d give something up, suffer pain, make a sacrifice. You never know; and you can’t tell when it starts if a friendship is that kind. Sometimes it’s just infatuation or overwhelming lust, or even just tequila and beer. Sometimes a friendship like that starts with dislike, which seems like a Hollywood cliche but really does happen.
People like to scoff at the idea that this sort of friendship can develop with people you’ve never met. And sure, a lot of the time, that’s illusion, it’s two false or partial faces turned to face each other. But real people can connect and know each other when they’ve never met. No, you can’t know another person’s facial expressions and mannerisms; and you can’t see the tired and crabby and ill, you can’t smell the smells and hear the noises. But that’s both good and bad, and I think in a lot of ways it’s a wash.
I love people I’ve never met. They touch me in here without my ever having hugged them or shared a meal with them, without ever having seen what they look like laughing.
Do I want to meet them for real? Of course. But things would be different. Is that a cost? Or a benefit? Do I lose something or gain? I don’t know.
I do know that sometimes you meet someone for real and it’s a touchdown, a home run, an – ahem – hole in one. I’ve got a small list of these people, where you can say ‘this meeting makes my world better’. That’s a small percentage of the people I’ve taken from on-line to real-life; but when it happens it makes it worthwhile.
I’ll risk it. I’m a gambler, I guess. But really, it’s not much of a gamble. Not when the payoff feels that good.