More than ever before, in 2009 I’ve been contemplating ways to bridge the gap between the digital world and the real world. For example, consider the rise of e-books. I’m a Kindle and an iPhone owner–I enjoy carrying around hundreds of books in the palm of my hand. But you can’t smell the fresh pages of an ebook. You can’t pull it from the smiling Amazon box and feel like you just unveiled a treasure. You can’t fall in love with the pretty author on the back flap. And with both formats, you’re no more connected to other people–people who could be reading the same book at the same time–than before.
That’s just one example out of thousands. The point is that it’s been on my mind. A lot. To compound to those thoughts, this is the first year that I’ve felt like I’ve really connected with people online. My blog audience has grown, and the comment sections are much more active than ever before. Add to that the connections I’ve met with genuine people on Twitter. These relationships feel akin to actual friendships.
And yet I’ve never met any of these people in real life.
By now you’re probably familiar with Lauren. She and I have started collaborating on a Mars vs. Venus series of blog entries that contrast male and female perspectives. She’s fantastic, insightful blogger over at my life, incomplete, and her audience is rapidly growing.
Lauren and her boyfriend were visiting St. Louis this weekend for a mini-vacation of sorts (in some circles, St. Louis is called the “Hawaii of the midwest), so she asked if I’d be interested in grabbing a mid-afternoon beer with them. We decided to blog about the experience since it was the first time that either of us had met an online friend in person. Here’s Lauren’s entry. (We haven’t read each other’s entries as of this posting.)
Through our online interactions, I had a pretty good idea of the type of person Lauren would be (i.e., not crazy). I was curious, however, about how she and her boyfriend would interact with a third party in person. After all, someone could be completely socially adept online but not at all in person. Plus, given my long-distance relationship over the past year and recent singledom, I know what it’s like to be a third wheel. Sometimes couples get a little too snuggly or inside-jokey, and that’s when it starts to get awkward.
Fortunately, I found hanging out with Lauren and Doug to be really easy and not awkward at all. I didn’t think about this until right now, but it actually helped the conversation that they didn’t sit right next to each other. We were all spaced out evenly around a booth at Brennan’s. I’m not sure if it was intentional on their part, but it kind of made me feel like an equal in the conversation instead of the third wheel that I was.
I really enjoy Lauren’s frank, to-the-point commentary on her blog, and that’s how she is in person. She’s a very strong woman, and I can see why she’s starting to gain some momentum and clout in the single-parenting niche. I’ve had limited interaction with Doug on the comment boards of Lauren’s blogs, but he was a great guy in person–intelligent, down-to-earth, and really friendly. He was very confident and not over-protective of Lauren–given the scenario of some random dude meeting up with his girlfriend, I can see how some guys would have made it a point to stake claim of their girlfriend. But it’s clear that Doug has a high level of respect and trust for Lauren, and he seemed to grant me that trust as well.
Aside from all these observations, I just had a darn good time. We met up around 3:00 and hung out for a good 3 hours, the two of them drinking me under the table in the process. These are the type of people I’d hang out with if they lived in St. Louis. Funny, engaging, good storytellers, and completely open to any conversation topic.
Also, one interesting thing to note about meeting someone with whom your primary communication has been blog reading and comments is that you know them by their blog posts. This means you can’t presume that you truly know them through and through, but at the same time, you know some fairly personal things about them. I thought that helped conversation–our chat was friendly and fun at times, and in others it was refreshingly deep.
Writing all this, I’m rather curious to see what Lauren says. She and Doug could have had a completely different impression of me–I really don’t know. I just tried to be myself, and after a few beers, it’s not like I had a choice in the matter.
Overall, this makes me want to meet more people that I’ve connected with online. So I’ll put this out there: If you’re ever in St. Louis, let’s meet up for a beer. Seriously. Let’s bridge the gap between the digital and the real. And the same goes for my travels–I’m driving from St. Louis to Richmond and back over the next week and a half, in late March I’ll be going to Vegas for a weekend, and I’ll spend a week this summer in the Outer Banks in North Carolina. If you live near any of those areas, let’s meet up. Hopefully Lauren can assure you over on her blog that I’m just a normal guy.
Now go on over to Lauren’s blog and read her post. And let me know your take on meeting online friends in person below. Have you ever done it?