Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Virtual Reality

I wonder if the day will come when the connections and friendships I make online will cease to amaze me?

I hope not.

For someone who was so skeptical when I started this blog, the very real community I have found online boggles my mind.  I will be talking to a 'real life' friend, and inevitably I'll rattle off someone's name (or blog handle, or whatever they are called) and the person will look at me quizzically and say, "What?  Did you just say Heather of the EO?   Who is that?"  

You other bloggers out there will know what I'm talking about.   Those of you who don't have the slightest clue can keep on looking at me quizzically, because I can't find adequate words to explain what these connections mean to me.    I'm beyond excited to go to BlogHer (an annual women's blogging conference) in New York City in August and meet some of these people in the flesh.    

The primary concern from the non-bloggers appears to be that I'll substitute real-life friendships for virtual ones.   That I'll lose myself to the pixilated world of the internet, sit in the dark like a mushroom and clack away at my keyboard instead of going out and living my life.    There are many people who seem to believe that online friendships aren't real, that they are inherently inauthentic

I was struggling with a problem a few weeks back, one I couldn't safely talk about with the people my inner circle because they were intimately involved with this situation, too.    I needed guidance and support, and I reached out to my online friends.   They came with advice, love and virtual hugs.  I even called one of them. On the phone.   I had never heard her voice, wouldn't know her face if she sat down right beside me, and yet there she was.   There was no awkwardness, just friendship.   

The online culture reminds me of recovery meetings.   I don't know most peoples' last names.    They are factual strangers, for the most part, whose words move me to my core, change my world view, help me in countless ways.    Like in recovery meetings, oftentimes it is the comfort of strangers with a shared purpose who are the most helpful, because they aren't woven into the complicated fabric of my day-to-day life.

They aren't a replacement for real world friendships, they are real world friendships.

With a click of a button I can find people who share the same struggles and triumphs I do - whether it is parenting, staying sober, fitness or creativity.  

Someone said to me the other day, "Be careful.   You don't really know who is on the other side of that computer screen."     True.    But how much do we really know each other in the real world?     How often do we float in and out of relationships, or bobble along on the surface without really revealing who we are?    If anything, I have found that the relative anonymity of the internet can be very healing.    It allows people to drop their guard a bit, open up in ways they can't (or won't) do with their neighbors and acquaintances.   

Because I blog openly about my addiction and recovery, I am approached frequently by people who live in the real world who need help, guidance, insight or a shoulder to lean on.    I don't know most of them.   They are the same faces I see in the grocery store, at kids' activities, at church.    I'm grateful for the opportunity to help, to meet new people and make new friends.    Without this blog, there are countless connections I would have missed, because I would just be another face in the sea of faces we come across every day.  

As I anticipate going to BlogHer, meeting some of you in person, I do have some trepidations, though.   Not because I'm fearful you won't be who you say you are, but that I won't be who you think I am.    I revert back to middle school playground insecurities:   I won't fit in, do they know I'm tall and clumsy, I'm not particularly good at small talk, they've been doing this for years and won't have room for me.     I picture myself hovering in the corner of a loud, vibrant room full of talented and ambitious bloggers, sipping my club soda with lemon and wondering why the hell I'm there.   

It's okay, though.   Those insecurities plague me in everyday life, too.    And the best part about blogging, at least the way I try to do it, is that I don't need to mess with the posturing of real life.   I am authentically me on my little acre of the internet, maybe more so than I am at a kid's school performance, or on the sidelines of the soccer field.

Besides, I'm looking forward to prattling on about blogging without getting quizzical expressions.    I know I'll leave there with new connections, new friendships.   I know I'll have the awkward-in-the-corner moments, too.

Because it's like that, in the real world.


  1. well said Ellie. Online friends have become real life friends to me too, and they are very special to me.

  2. It is the one place where we can totally be ourselves and that is a sigh of relief. Veronica.

  3. I have those conversations with my husband, referring to "Ellie" and "DaMomma" and he looks at me very strangely. I just tell him they are my friends. Twitter is even worse.


  4. I so wish you had been at Blogher last year. I would have had someone to sip club soda with and maybe I wouldn't have felt so insecure.

    You have a great attitude and that guarantees that you'll have a terrific time.

  5. I just can't imagine YOU not being good at small talk. You do so well with big talk, deep talk, real talk. And sometimes, when I'm telling a woman in recovery about your blog, my closing statement is "this is a woman I would totally invite to come sit on the stoop and drink tea and joke about the pain of our days". :) Breath and just be you.

  6. I do that too! I talk about Ellie and Liz and my husband just grins, and says, "You don't really know them, hon." It's infuriating! I've been reading Damomma for years! When I connect with people via my own blog, it's amazing.

  7. In Britain we have Cybermummy. It's coming up in July too and I have much the same excitement and misgivings as yourself. I've already been for one night out with some other bloggers and it was lovely - everyone was really nice - but it was strange too. It felt very exposing, no longer having a computer screen to hide behind. It was worth it though I think because now it feels good to have that extra element to our blogging friendships.

    Have a great time at Blogher Ellie. I wish I could go! It would be so great to meet you in person.

  8. i just wrote a similar post, but i don't think i ever published it. i had my own little realization while i was on vacation. in speaking to my ILs, i realized that half the friends i talk about i've never even met in person. yet i love them just as much as any of my IRL friends, if not more because i KNOW i have more in common with some of my bloggy friends than my IRL friends. i wish i could go to something like Blogher. i've only met one of my internet friends IRL, and it was wonderful. :) i hope you have fun!

  9. well said Ellie. Online friends have become real life friends to me too, and they are very special to me.