January 17, 2010

The People I Know

This week's list was an interesting one for me -- "List the children and babies that you know" -- because it goes right to the heart of a post that has been brewing for a while. The thing is, two years ago, here is how that list would have looked:

Would-be List 3 - Children and Babies I Know
  • (None)
The difference between now and then is AllMediocre and Twitter and the incredible people they've brought into my life. And that difference is huge because many of the people I met by those means are parents who are now a part of my life.

List 3 - Children and Babies I Know
The thing that makes this list somewhat different, apart from the obvious fact that it's far lengthier than it would otherwise have been, is that I have met some of these children in person and some I haven't.

But it doesn't matter because I know them; their parents are my friends.

Some of their parents I have met in person, and some I haven't. And that doesn't matter, either.

I no longer distinguish my friends by how I know them. There is no "in real life/IRL" and "online" in my lexicon of friendship any more. None. It's gone. If people ask me to clarify who I'm talking about, I do, but my friendship with The Duchess or Kathy is no less meaningful to me than my friendship with someone I get to see more frequently (or ever) simply by virtue of location. The fact we've seen each other only once or haven't seen each other face-to-face is meaningless to me. That kind of thinking is outdated. How you meet and make a friend does not define that friendship anymore than the length of time you've known someone or their proximity to you defines a friendship. Friendship is far more complex than that and the Internet has broadened our friendship horizons exponentially.

I think some are threatened by that broadening of horizons, so they ridicule and resent the friendships their loved ones have with people they've met in a manner other than what they consider to be "real." One part of me is frustrated by this...and frustrated often. The other part of me feels bad for both my friends who encounter this and their loved ones, because the loved ones are limiting themselves and limiting their partners (or trying) when they feel threatened by what they don't understand. Many of these loved ones cite safety concerns and there are certainly some people online whose intentions are less than good. However, in the same way that the news scares us daily with cautionary tales of evildoing, whether online or in our neighborhood, not everyone can be painted with that same brush of fear or we'd never leave our houses. Doing so toward people who spend part of their lives online is simply another form of discrimination, as they're judging people they don't know based on one facet of those people.

I'm quite certain that these loved ones don't see it that way. I imagine they think they're looking out for their partners (and, by extension, their families) because they love them. What they don't realize, in my opinion, is that they're also trying to substitute their judgment for their partner's judgment to a large degree, and that doesn't honor their bond one bit. Most of us are not dumb enough to blindly trust the people we meet online. We all get taken in by people from time to time; it happens, it's part of life and it's by no means limited to "people from the Internet." When you spend time online, you learn to assess people by their presence there, the same way you assess people in your office or class when you have to decide who you can trust and who you can't. To make an assumption that someone means to harm or dupe your partner just because their connection isn't face-to-face is to question your partner's ability to make that kind of assessment.

It's also ignorant to think that if your partner meets someone at the club or a party or in the PTA, they will make a better friend than someone they met on Twitter. Who exactly do you think is on Twitter? It's the people at your grocery store and your gym, it's the people in your office and your softball league, it's the people living next door to you and across the street. They are, quite literally, as real as you are and denying that does no justice to your own common sense and no credit to your intellect.

I make a real effort to meet my friends in person whenever possible. It's important to me because of this distrust that some of their loved ones have about their "invisible friends" or "Twitter buddies." Sometimes I feel like I'm on a one-woman crusade to prove to them that we're not all actually 30 year-old men living in our parent's basement who pretend to be women online. It doesn't always work and my feelings on the subject have come between me at least one friend, which saddens me greatly. But it matters to me what their loved ones think because they are a major part of my friends' lives and I respect them for that role. It's not enjoyable to know they sometimes don't respect my role in their partner's life because of how they know me.

My life has been enriched immeasurably by the people I consider to be my friends, and I look forward to continue getting out there and spending time with them, their kids and their loved ones whenever possible. And when I can't, my days are made brighter by their presence on my laptop.