Thursday, January 3, 2008

Maybe I'm A Cat

In discussing the potential for camouflage, it has been said, "On the Internet, nobody knows if you're a cat." Another quote, perhaps more telling, goes, "On the Internet, nobody knows if you're a dog. Everybody knows if you're a jackass."

That latter quote illustrates an important truth: if you do a lot of writing, it is impossible to hide your essential self. Oh, you can protect your privacy and keep your secrets but your writing will reveal the kind of person you are, sooner or later. That's why I've never been afraid to meet in person the people with whom I've formed friendships on the Internet.

Those of us fortunate enough to have had that experience can find amusement in the alarms of those who think physical contact with those you've met in cyberspace is as dangerous as answering a Lonely Hearts ad. Surely you will end up victimized in one way or another. I tell folks they only have to read the newspapers to learn about the victims who met their predators in all the proper ways, as approved by society. Sometimes I think there is more danger in the "acceptable" forms of acquaintance than there could ever be in a web-based relationship.

That's because we usually have, to one degree or another, a public personality and a private personality. For some people, what you see is pretty much what you get. For others there is a vast difference between the two selves and you have no way of discerning that difference until it's too late. Ask any battered or betrayed spouse or date rape victim.

How is a cyberspace relationship different? Depends on the venue, I think. The Internet is no different than Real Life simply because it's powered by Real People. You have the whole range of human nature to deal with and you have to be as discerning online as off. The thing is, folks don't always realize how much of themselves they are revealing by the words they use to express themselves. Perhaps because they feel a certain safety in the apparent anonymity of the Internet, they say things they would not say when face-to-face with others. They turn it all loose and, boyhowdy, it can come back to bite you.

I was fortunate in that I learned early about mailing list groups. Whatever subject interests you, somewhere there is a mailing list consisting of other folks with the same interests. Not all such groups will be a comfortable fit for you but once you find one with whom you can feel a genuine rapport, you stick with it. Over years of nearly daily conversations, there is no way in bloody blue hell you won't know the important essentials of the people with whom you've shared your time -- nor can they help but know you in the same way.

Because that genuinely deep foundation has already been laid, meeting such friends "in the flesh" is comfortable and natural. There is no initial awkwardness because you're long past that stage. There is not even any concern about your appearance. The friendship has already been formed without the baggage of subconscious bias and we all know that the faces of those we care about are always pleasing to the eye.

What happens, is, you can relax with your cyber-friend and simply be who you are, with no facade to maintain, because who you are has already been accepted "as is." Just as you have accepted the other person without tiresome qualifications. Given the opportunity, cyber-friends become part of your extended family, every bit as important to the richness of your life as those you count dear in your immediate "real life" surroundings.

Yikes! It's almost midnight and if I don't post this, I won't be able to notify anyone about tomorrow's post because it will be tomorrow today and I'm only allowed one notify per 24-hour period. Shazaaam!

Okay. Now that I've managed to squeak the notify in just before the midnight hour, I want to add the note that the photo came from the Twitter website. Thanks, Twitter!


The Old Guy said...

Well, speaking as one who married his cyberfriend a dozen years ago, I'd have to agree with you. And she loves cats.

Bonnie said...

This brought a broad smile to my face as I recall the warnings and oh my's from the pool folks when I was off to meet you. :-) And do you suppose they were more surprised to see me back in one piece talking about the fine time I had? ;-)

Jo said...

I so couldn't agree with you more, Dee. Without the Internet, I really wouldn't have as many friends as I do have. I would have never met you and your wonderful brand of humor and writing. I wouldn't have met this lovely couple in Montreal and have them become our best friends. We have met now three times in real life and they want to come down again this coming summer. I wouldn't have had all this company in my own home if it hadn't been for the Internet. I wouldn't be going to Florida in February to visit another couple who are best friends, too, that I met because of a Yahoo group I am on (same place I met the Montreal couple). And I wouldn't have had the best marriage ever if I hadn't met my guy--The Old Guy who wrote the first comment on this topic--on the Internet. So, does 12 1/2 years of marriage count as a success? If I had met him through the usual procedures, would our marriage have also lasted this long? Well, probably because of who we are and how well we get along. The point is meeting people on the Internet is no safer or no worse than meeting people in your own town, like you said.

Dee said...

Ah, Jo and Bill, you represent just one of the happy Web couples I know about. Makes my heart smile.

Bonnie, I was thinking about the worries your pool friends had before you came for your visit. And grinning, of course.

Methinks I'm preaching to the choir, here. And that's okay, too. It does us good to verify the validity and value of our cyber-friendships from time to time.

Kate said...

Just think, if you had been a fraidy cat about meeting cyber friends in person, where would we be today? I've got a couple of cyber families myself, and they're wonderful -- way more supportive than my kinfolk ever thought about being!

Hope you're battened down good & solid up there. It's spittin' & blowin' here & I'll likely lose power before it's all over (lights keep going faint, then coming back to full power).

Mage And George said...

Yes, but now I am wondering what prompted this careful lesson in cyberfriendships. :)

Dee said...

Kate, stay safe and dry, please. I've been keeping tabs on your storm because of you and a few other friends down there. We have some of the wind and rain up here but this time you folks are taking the brunt of it.

Mage, the inspiration for the post came from a remark Gordo made in the comments from the previous day. I do this every now and then -- yak about cyber thangs, I mean.

Gordo said...

As I said, I used to sniff derisively at the concept of "online friends". Until I made one. There's no other descriptor for her other than "friend".

I mean, I have loads of acquaintances online, and a couple of those I have converted to friends after physically meeting. But never before. I guess I'm forced to admit that it all depends on the people involved. ;-)