I’ve grown up in a world where talking to strangers online was frowned upon. In the days of ICQ and MSN Messenger (remember those days?), how could you possibly know who the stranger on the other end really was? She may tell you she’s a 14-year-old basketball player who loves to paint and wants to be a plumber when she grows up, but how do you know she’s not actually a 13-year old hockey player who loves pottery and dreams of owning her own ranch? Or worse, how do you know she’s not actually a 44-year-old man who lives in his parents’ basement and preys on the young and innocent?
If talking to strangers online was frowned upon, actually meeting these strangers in person was the worst thing you could ever do in your life, ever. While meeting the 14-year-old basketball player who loves to paint and wants to be a plumber might work out just fine, meet the 44-year-old man who lives in his parents’ basement and preys on the young and innocent just screams “Danger! Danger!”
It’s interesting to think how much our interactions with others in the online world has changed over the past decade (holy crap, saying a decade makes me feel old. But it’s true, so I might as well just face it.). Where all we used to see is the conversation that we were having with a stranger, now, through Facebook and Twitter, and Instagram, (and on, and on, and on), we see our conversations, conversations they’ve had with others, what they had for breakfast, lunch, and supper, 8 million selfies, and their answers to a whole lot of Buzzfeed quizzes. Through the articles they share, we see the things they care about. Through the constant repetition of topics in their posts, we see what they are truly passionate about. We see the things they like and dislike, how they react to situations, the kind of person they are, and not because they’re explicitly telling us, but because they’re showing us every day.
Is it possible for these people to still not be the person they are showing the world? Can the 44-year-old-man-who-lives-in-his-parents’-basement-and-preys-on-the-young-and-innocent still masquerade as a 13-year-old-hockey-player-who-loves-pottery-and-dreams-of-owning-her-own-ranch? Sure, absolutely. But it’s a hell of a lot less likely, and a whole lot easier to figure out.
All of my thoughts about meeting face-to-face with the people that you’ve met online started a few weeks ago, when I had the chance to FACE-TO-FACE meet Sabina (and Tom. And Nathalia).
Some background information: Sabina works for Swift Kick, the company who runs the Student Leader Collective (SLC). I was a member of the leadership team for SLC last year, and hence met Sabina. We’re in pretty constant communication via Twitter (especially in regards to Pocket…), have had multiple Google Hangouts, and she’s always taking over my Facebook feed. You could say we both have a slight obsession with student leadership. Anyway, for the last year, we’ve been talked a lot, and gotten to know each other pretty well- but it’s all been online, since she’s in New York, and I’m in Nova Scotia. So when I went to NYC on vacation a few weeks ago, there was no question that we were hanging out. No question at all.
Did it feel weird to tell people that I was going to face-to-face meet someone that I’d met online? Yes. Absolutely.
Did it feel weird to face-to-face meet someone that I’d met online? Not at all. Not even a little bit.
Which brings us away from the topic of the 44-year-old-man-who-lives-in-his-parents’-basement-and-preys-on-the-young-and-innocent, and straight to the doorstep of authenticity.
In social media circles, the topic of authenticity seems to come up fairly often. Is the person they are online the same as the person they are in real life? Do they show only the super sunny moments in their life, or do they show some of the hard times as well?
It’s weird (and extremely interesting) to find out how the people you’ve met online, and only ever interacted with online, view you. When I left the leadership team of SLCollective, one of the other team members wrote a goodbye post. In the post, he essentially wrote a short bio for me, which said, in part:
She tends to be more involved than is humanly possible. … She is that person who will make you think about things on a whole new level. She’s quick with a response, be it rebuttal or admiration: the kind of friend you want to keep around. She is often guilty of napping before #SLchat and loves orientation week more than anyone in the world.
Is that a pretty good summary of who I am? Yes, and it amazes me that an online relationship about six months in duration could result in someone knowing those things about me. (Note: whether I want to be known for napping is questionable, but all the rest sounds pretty good!).
Going back to Sabina: It wasn’t even a little bit weird to meet Sabina face-to-face, because she was exactly who I expected her to be. Online, she is always energetic and excited about everything- same in real life. Online, she has a passion for student leadership- same in real life. She laughs a lot online, she laughs a lot in person. I wasn’t meeting a stranger- I was meeting a friend.
That’s what the past decade’s changes in social media have meant. They mean that we’re now showing, and not just telling, others the kind of person we are. They mean extra tests, and extra care, when it comes to authenticity. They mean people can make extremely accurate judgements about you based on the things you post and share. And they mean that the people you meet online don’t remain strangers, but become true friends.
I definitely choose this world over the one I grew up in.