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Monday, October 11, 2004

Friendship through the looking glass

I sometimes get sidelong glances from people when I mention that I keep an online journal. Those glances turn to incredulous stares when I add that I regularly follow a couple of dozen journals/blogs belonging to complete strangers.

In my mind, this all seems quite normal.

But for people not caught up in this ‘wonderland’ of blogs, it must seem a little creepy.

For instance, the benevolent contempt in which I’ve always held people with an over-active interest in Dungeons & Dragons or Star Trek memorabilia is now precisely how many of my non-blogger friends view me.

Pay attention Alanis… that’s irony!

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not some housebound agoraphobe (to borrow one of my favorite Imus phrases) who is incapable of real intimacy. Zahava and I have several overlapping circles of friends with whom we regularly socialize. But there is something liberating about cautiously cultivating and maintaining the acquaintance of people through the ‘wonderland looking glass’ called the Internet.

I have never met most of the bloggers/journalers I read each day (and likely never will). They live around the world, and my ‘relationship’ with them covers the entire gambit from them not being aware that I even read them… to cordial, almost intimate ongoing comments on each other’s sites. Some I would like as best friends… others I find instructive, but we share few values in common.

The same can be said about those who read treppenwitz. There are literally hundreds of people from near and far who stop by almost every day to read (I honestly can’t fathom why…). Most do so without ever saying hello… and others have become welcome participants in my journaling experience… dare I say even friends?!

Thanks to the recent Anglo-Israeli Blogmeet, I was able to make the acquaintance of some of the ‘local’ online personalities. That meeting scratched an important ‘itch’ that many people in this odd world feel from time-to-time.

On our vacation to the states I met up with another journaler I read. She and I went to high school together but had never met. Again one evening together added a special new layer to the fondness I already had for her, and the intimacy I felt with her ‘story’.

But are these people really my friends? Can one make that leap? Is it even healthy to try?

Like nearly everything under the sun… there is no single right answer to that question.

People have found love on the Internet… so by my way of thinking it should come as no surprise that occasionally, a real friendship can take shape.

This past weekend, a journaler who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a couple of times, came to us for Shabbat. I was a little worried since this was the first time we’d actually had someone from the ‘online world’ spend an extended period of time in our home. We wondered if the charming, well-spoken façade would crumble after a few brief minutes… only to be replaced by 25+ hours of raving lunatic?

It turned out that Noa is as bright and animated as she seems in her journal, and she knows about a gazillion of the same people that we do, both here and in the U.S. We read many of the same blogs/journals (no big surprise there), and we even share a love of dogs (she brought her little Sharona to play with Jordan).

I was especially pleased to see that Noa and Zahava talked effortlessly for hours about countless topics that at turns fascinated me and made me want to run screaming from the room. I probably shouldn’t be surprised that they clicked, though. After all, I’ve seen Zahava emerge from public restrooms with new friends in tow… a concept so alien to men that after 13 years of marriage I still can’t completely come to terms with the idea!

So, despite the admitted oddness of the whole blogger world… I am happy to report that it is possible to create friendships ‘through the looking glass’, and happier still to find that it is possible to translate those friendships into the flesh & blood variety without too much weirdness.

That’s a good thing (as ‘Martha’ was fond of saying), because there are still a few other people out there in ‘wonderland’ that I would love to get to know.

Posted by David Bogner on October 11, 2004 | Permalink

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Dear David,

I made the experience that the Internet is a little like the "real world" we are living in. It is difficult (very difficult) to find real friends. But you will meet good and interesting people if you just want to.
Never ever before it was so easy to get in contact with people all over the world sharing the same interests. I should try to remember what I did every day before this machine called computer existed.
Greetings to Israel
Sandra

Posted by: Sandra | Oct 11, 2004 4:40:46 PM

Hi David,

Sidelong glances, I know them well. Maybe it is the trenchcoat I wear during the Summer or maybe it is the blog. I don't know. :)

In all seriousness, I too have received funny looks from people when I mention my blog. Some have asked if I am into exhibitionism or am so narcissitic that I need constant reaffirmation.

My answer is simple. I write because it is a very easy way for me to get a better understanding of my own thoughts and feelings about life.

When someone asks why are you a Jew, why are you a Zionist, who are you voting for, do you believe in XYZ I always have an answer. And I always have.

But writing things down provides clarity. It makes it simple for me to see that sometimes my own preconceived notions of myself are wrong.

It allows me to be part of a community in which my views are challenged. I like that. I especially enjoy the intellectual stimulation it brings.

Blogging allows me to interact with experts in many different fields. People that I would likely never get to speak with and to do so without the constraints of time.

And frankly it is good to read about the challenges that people face and to see that so many of them are things that I struggle with.

Blogging is pretty personal, but I really do feel like I am learning from it.

Posted by: Jack | Oct 11, 2004 4:52:46 PM

Sandra... You have a good point, but I would add the following caveat:

In the real world one has more indicators on which to base important decisions about people/relationships.

On the Internet it is far to easy to withhold important information, or even become completely anonymous. People with the best of intentions often withold negative information about themselves (I know I do), making it very hard to truly 'know' someone with whom you are becoming friendly.

This is the reason I said "there is something liberating about cautiously cultivating and maintaining the acquaintance of people... " on the Internet.

And at the end of the day, if someone turns out to be as nice (or nicer) in person than you expected... it's cause for celebration (not to mention a journal entry). :-)

Posted by: David | Oct 11, 2004 4:58:03 PM

Jack... I couldn't have said it better! Longer? Absolutely!!! But not better.

Posted by: David | Oct 11, 2004 5:05:38 PM

I am so flattered you think of me as bright and animated! And glad that we were both nervous before the weekend. Of course, now that I know the extent of your culinary skills and the warmth of your house....Sharona and I will be back!

Posted by: Noa | Oct 11, 2004 9:37:52 PM

I have been reading your blog for a few months now and I really enjoy it. Today's post brought to mind one Friday night when my husband and I sat down to eat dinner and instead of recapping our weeks, we recapped the blogs we read that week. It was pretty humorous.
We too have had real-life interactions with fellow bloggers. The funniest part of the "blog to real life" transition, in my opinion, is that often when one person starts to explain something in their life (which is normal when you have new friends), often the other person already knows this information from having read the first person's blog. It is usually a pretty good ice-breaker. Keep up the great posts!

Posted by: peninah | Oct 11, 2004 10:35:54 PM

Back in my online journaling days I met a few fellow journalers, all of whom proved to be very much like their online personas. Now that I'm burning up the blogging airwaves, I'm meeting even more cool people and getting to know others (present company included). I have a couple of really close friends that I first knew through their websites or they through mine. I've used the internet for dating purposes. And I've reconnected with several long-lost friends, thanks to the internet. So I've had many positive experiences thanks to this odd little collection of wires and bits and strange scientific magic.

Still, family and friends who are not into it as much as I am still don't quite understand the enjoyment I get out of it. And still caution me about meeting people through it, even after seven years of having some sort of online presence.

On Friday I was speaking to my mother and told her that the inimitable Mr. Amaya would be stopping by on Sunday to take my picture. I told her how I knew him. Her question: "Is that okay with you? Do you feel safe with him coming to your home?"

I had to reassure her that, after my experiences, I had no doubt he would prove to be okay. And I was right. He only axe-murdered me once. I didn't tell her that last bit, though, when she called to see how I was on Sunday night. She's old-fashioned. Even one axe-murder is bad in her book.

Posted by: Carol | Oct 12, 2004 3:53:20 AM

Hello - I am just checking in to say that I enjoy reading your blog. :)

Posted by: A Simple Jew | Oct 12, 2004 4:04:37 PM

Noa... If all it takes to impress you is some slow roasted hickory chicken for shabbat dinner and pasta Alfredo for melava malka, you're in for a treat when Zahava and I really start to get competitive in the kitchen! :-)

You are welcome anytime.

Peninah... Zahava and I follow an overlapping collection of bloggers, so it is not uncommon for one of us to ask the other, "anyone especially worth reading today?" It is a rare day indeed when either of us can answer "no". Also, I find that already knowing a new friend's backstory is actually kind of refreshing.

Carol... Mr. Amaya is an axe murderer of great renown and some success (just ask Chuck)... I'm glad you survived a sitting with one of my two blogfathers.

However, I'll have to go with your mother on the whole meeting men online thing. Guys do a pretty fine job of masking their true selves when cornered on your parent's couch. How much more deceptive will they be behind a computer screen? If you have to go this route (which I can't image you do) please make sure you meet these jokers in crowded public places please! [sorry... that's the father in me talking!]

Simple Jew... Why thank you! Even your compliments are simple... I like that! :-) Always happy to meet a reader.

Posted by: David | Oct 12, 2004 4:39:44 PM

Thank you, David, I appreciate your concern. I would probably caution others as well, and I'm not even a mother! :D

When online dating (which, yes, I do have to resort to, but I thank you again for your sweet words) I tend to be pretty good at vibing the truly unpalatable men through e-mail, so that chaff is discarded pretty quickly. The ones that make it through the first round? I always meet them in public places first. I've learned to listen to my gut, which is pretty reliable. Well, as far as letting me know which men I would never ever consider seriously. It's the fellas that seem cool enough but are destined to disappear without a word after a few dates that it can't seem to weed out.

Posted by: Carol | Oct 12, 2004 4:58:13 PM

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