I have known these people for 10 years. They are, by and large, like a loose family to me : distant cousins or something. Of course, like in every family, feuds exist, we sometimes grow distant, and sometimes we are closer, and we (try to) gather for special occasions. It also means there are clusters, usually because of geographic proximity, work affinities and so on.
Yet, these people are supposedly alien to me. During these ten years, we met roughly a dozen times. Some of them I see almost every month, others, well, we haven’t spoken in years. However, there is a sense of identity, of a group. These people are part of a virtual community. And yet, I chat with them more freely than I would do in a bar with some of the people I know.
I have been out of school for 8 years, now. I don’t include university, since I was working at the same time… Friends don’t come easy when you skip many classes, arrive generally a bit late and rush out as soon as the class is over. My friends from this era can be counted on my hands. The ones I kept a close contact with are non-existent.
I’ll leave the profound thoughts for another time : asking whether we wear a mask when we chat on the ‘net with our friends, or if the mask is on when we unplug, is something I’ll let for each and everyone to decide.
These days, I have a tendency to keep in touch way more easily with people who pop up on my buddy list, or have a regular access to their emails, than with people I have to call to get some news. Is that laziness? Anyone who has tried to manage a dozen chats at the same time know how brain-challenging it can be… more so than having a drink with a dozen people.
I know for a fact that more and more youngsters have more “buddies” on various IMs than in their own classes. When you are fed up with one “buddy” you can just block him/her out, and never have to talk with them again. Is that really being social?
Back when the Gang was formed, the most fashionable virtual messaging system was IRC. Not one-to-one chatting, more like many-to-many, and sometimes quite difficult to follow. But it was a group thing. Even if you had some difficulties with this or that person, it didn’t mean you could erase them. They were there, whether you wanted or not. And we kept getting back because on the whole, we liked this group.
Does that mean I am becoming virtual? After all, my job is to build virtual things for people. Yes it does take an old fashioned human input and may produce a tangible output, but I didn’t build it. I merely told the computer how to do it. Our money is completely virtual: since when was a few centimeter square of paper worth a truckload of goods?
On the other hand, I do enjoy seeing people in the flesh, meeting with customers, and friends. But the connection remains mostly because of the regular beeping of my computer.