Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Online World Dinner

When I first went to Australia, I had what would once have been described as "letters of introduction" to friends of a friend: jcoldrey and beardoc. I had a bit of advance correspondence with jcoldrey concerning Sydney neighborhoods and transportation and the like, all of which was helpful and charming. After I arrived, I was amazed and delighted that these gentlemen across the world treated me, a stranger, as if I were a friend. It was the sort of thing that was key to my enjoyment of my trip. I saw both these gentleman again on my second trip a year later.

This was typical of my experience with Australians, whether they were strangers who are Morris dancers or strangers who are system administrators or strangers who are shapenote singers or strangers who are friends of Melbournite mrrules. I had what felt like a full life and set of friends in a distant country. Which explains why now, 15 months after my last trip, I am starting to pine once again for some more time down under. But that's another story. And besides, I started to pine for some more time down under about one week after returning.

I eventually found out that beardoc is quite well known internationally, among the "bear community". Everybody knows Seumas. For example, when chatting in a NYC bar with theoctothorpe and some friends of his during my last trip east, it came up that every person there, to a man, knew Seumas. It has something to do with bear chat rooms and sites and all sorts of online universes I do not inhabit. It also has something to do with Seumas himself, who is simply a sincerely friendly and nice man and manages to convey this on a monitor.

Seumas and his partner Russel are currently in the midst of a whirldwind visit to the US, during which they are spending about seven minutes each in a variety of cities, including Minneapolis just at the moment. Last night, their local hosts organized a restaurant outing and graciously invited me to join them so I could see Seumas and Russel while they were here, if only briefly. There were about a dozen folks in attendance, at a fine Thai restaurant called Thanh Do I'd wanted to try. (Conclusion: Recommended.)

As people arrived and settled in and talked about things, it was a slow dawning that I was the only person there who had actually met Seumas. This was not immediately apparent because there was no awkwardness in greetings, or questions about who was who, and the interaction was all of people who knew each other and who knew the same crowd. In fact, I was the only one who seemed to find it notable that the in-the-flesh meetings were themselves unnotable.

I long ago concluded that online friendships and relationships take on real meaning only when you actually meet people; what was compelling about the old soc.motss newsgroup was that people really did meet up with each other as much as possible (and the participants who nobody ever met were at a decided disadvantage). The online world provides a convenient way to maintain friendships and stay in touch, but I tend towards the view that there has to be some actual face to face connection or else Internet interaction is -- as I've heard it beautifully described -- "playing with your imaginary friends". And yet the people hanging out together last night did not seem to be imaginary friends.

It was a nice time. It was good to see Seumas and Russell. It was nice to have an opportunity to talk with some of the other folks there, all of whom I know at least by sight but few of whom I know well. I'm also thinking a bit about the current state of the online universe.

You still won't find me in a chat room, though.
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