Our Real and Virtual Worlds

“My friend from Paris,” my son told me a few weeks ago, “says that it’s snowing like crazy in the city.”

A sip of tea. A spoonful of oatmeal. A glance at the microwave clock. 6:40 a.m.

“Hurry up,” I said. “Traffic is bad on Monday morning.”

And then it hit me.

My son doesn’t have any friend in Paris.

France may be his parents’ homeland, but for my son it is beforehand a foreign country where food is better than in America and where people speak exactly like his mom and dad.

“Wait a second,” I said. “Who’s this friend you have in Paris?”

“My Facebook friend,” my son said, forcing his lunch bag deep in his backpack.

“Oh,” I said. “So you don’t really have a friend in Paris.”

“We talk,” my son went on, elaborating on their common interests. “He likes me and I like him.”

Facebook. Friend. Like. Thumbs up. Nothing weird, after all.

My reaction, retrospectively, surprised me.  I’m pretty bad at Facebooking – in the beginning the social network had limited the word count and I have a tendency to write more than less, so it didn’t encourage me to get social on Facebook. But blogging was for me – there is no word count police for bloggers. Blogging was initially to get disciplined. Writing on a regular basis can only make it better, right? Soon, however, I was reading other bloggers’ words.

And I felt connected to these people who, like me, chose to share for free their words with total strangers. Are they total strangers? I wondered as my son and I drove to school that morning.

Some bloggers have a Gravatar with their picture. Some don’t. Some are very transparent and some more mysterious. And yet reading a meaningful post from a blogger I follow or from one I discover as I wander the virtual world awaiting at the tip of my fingers, triggers a spark similar to the pleasure of meeting an old friend or to the expectation of making a new friend.

I don’t know these bloggers for real and won’t probably ever meet any of them, and yet their thoughts, their fears, their dreams, their words, talk to me and touch me as if we were friends.

Not unlike my son who doesn’t really know his friend from Paris and yet thought of him as he left for school in shorts and T-shirt while it was snowing in Paris.

I still enjoy meeting my real friends for real. And yet, once in while, as we talk, I think of a blog post I read – a fiction story, a poem, a personal essay, or a professional advice – aware that it spoke to me more than the conversation I’m currently having.

Born in the late 90s, my son has always known the Internet. Like me, he has friends in his brick and mortar world and friends within the walls of his computer. Less than me, he doesn’t feel necessary to distinguish between them.

But the frontiers between the people I physically know and the ones I know through their posts are getting blurrier.

Over the weekend I was in the company of lots of people. For real.

Saturday dinner. Sunday morning hike. Family time. Garden party.

Among these people, a few are good friends – the kind you count on regardless of circumstances. Many are people I like and some are acquaintances. At the party there were too many to get to talk to each. In the real world – strange paradox – it takes more time to find people who share common interests with us than it is in the blogosphere.

Yet I know that I won’t e-mail a blogger if something terrible happens to my family or if I’m in an accident and need help – I will call a real friend.

Yet I know that I will read a blog when I seek connection to a world where people express their thoughts, their fears, their dreams through a post.

These written words will almost always find their way to my heart.

And I wonder if it is because we will remain physically invisible to each other and won’t ever become real friends that the connection happens.

Thumbs up, my friend.

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