I remember when the internet first appeared. It was lauded as the new way to bring people together from around the globe. But it didn't really do that as soon as everyone expected. For the business world, yes, it was great, and it was great right away. But for everyday people like you and me, we learned quickly that we had to be careful. Yeah, it was a cool idea, and you might have some "'friends" in chat rooms or bulletin boards (remember when those were the only ways to "connect" outside of email?) but there wasn't much of a connection beyond that. Everyone was wary of sexual predators and serial killers, especially when their teenage children were exploring the internet.
Over time, people got more relaxed. I know my mom has been part of an email movie discussion group called The Balcony for years. She visited friends or had friends visit her when I still thought it was creepy and weird to make friends through the internet. How do you know who these people are? How do you know that the person they're presenting is the real thing? How can you trust them? Of course, this was during my late teens, and I'm a smart one, I knew that I needed to be cautious at that age. But even through college and for a while after, I didn't really branch out. I had an early version of the blog for a while, I think the site was called Diaryland...or maybe that was later. Anyway, the whole idea was that it was similar to your private journal, and you could make it private, semi-private, or public. I remember mine was public, and since I never really kept a diary of private thoughts, it just became a place to talk about my day (kind of like this blog). I had some regular readers whose journals I also read, and I thought it was pretty cool that I sort of knew about all these people writing from all over the world. But I didn't really consider them friends. I always felt like I needed to keep some distance. And eventually I got tired of the servers overloading on that site and I stopped writing. When that happened, I didn't worry about keeping in touch with my readers. A few of them had already gotten sick of the servers or stopped writing for other reasons, and even though we'd been reading each other's journals, we didn't feel THAT close. We were just a bunch of teenagers -- we had our real friends, and our readers were just these people who happened to be permitted to read the minor, sharable details of our lives.
After that, I went back to using social media solely for keeping in touch with people I knew in real life. It was nice to have MSN chat when my friends and I all went to different colleges. I'm not sure I'd even still know my best friend if it hadn't been for chatting online a few times a week. Even just a few years before, college was known as the time when you drift away from your old friends and make the friends that you know you'll have forever. Granted, I certainly made some wonderful friends in college, and I believe I will have them forever. I just didn't end up drifting away from the old friends, and it was all because we could chat online. Why doesn't just calling work, you ask? Well, when you call someone, you feel like you have to talk. When online, especially when you can make a group chat window (which we did all the time), it's more like you're just hanging out. You don't feel like you have to keep the conversation moving the whole time. It might even hit a lull and then you don't talk for a couple hours, but then something funny will happen and if they're still online, you can tell them about it.
So, great. I stayed in touch with my friends who were really still just a few hours away. And I'd have online conversations with some new college friends if it was late at night and we were in our separate dorm rooms. But that's still not connecting "around the globe." Where's that amazing socialization that we were supposed to get?
I know by this point in the post you're all saying, "duh, Bridgete, it's here." And you're right, it is. My mom just told me that she's showing one of her Balcony friends around Portland. Like I said, she had that connection thing long before I did. But now I've connected too. Blogging finally did it. I don't know why blogging is so much different than that online diary I had, whether it's because I'm older or because now most of the people you meet have a blog or two so it's just normal, but it's different. Jenn and Matt are part of my Boston family, and I never would have even met them if it hadn't been for blogging. I'd feel perfectly comfortable flying to Colorado and staying with Ginger or Kate. Bree made her blog private but still welcomed me into the inner circle of permitted readers. And that's just the people I know through the more personal blogs. Then there's the author of You Suck at Craigslist. Those people got me through the bar exam. Well, let's hope they did, they might have just served as a distraction. ;)
I've added these people as friends on Facebook. I stoically add only "real" friends as Facebook friends. So I guess my blog friends are "real" friends. In fact, I don't even distinguish between blog friends and real friends anymore. Sure, certain blog friends are part of a particular circle and they don't really interact with the other circles, except maybe with an occasional reply to someone's comment on one of my statuses. But when I talk about something funny someone said, I just say, "Oh, _____ said the funniest thing the other day!" and that's that. No need to explain that I've never actually met this person. That's not important anymore. We know each other, and that's enough.