Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Virtual Village

Several months ago, Tina and I were talking about a conversation we were observing and participating in on one of the blogs that we both read. Here we were, old friends talking about mutual friends that neither of us actually know in real life. She called it our "virtual village" and the phrase has totally stuck.

The Virtual Village is a fascinating thing.

On Tuesday, I asked people what online friendships meant to them. People used words like lifeline, supportive, strong, "...just as real to me as any real-life friend..."

My long-time internet friend Pattie wrote the following last night:
I LOVE online. That's because everyone starts on an even footing there. If you DO form a friendship, it's usually formed because you had a common interest or value in some online discussion. Age and social circumstance don't get in the way -- you may not even know those things until much later. And then you don't have all that social posturing that people have to do IRL. People are generally more honest and less inhibited online because they're not at risk. And so you learn who they really are, before you ever choose to be friends (or not).

My experiences have been similar. I have some internet friends that have been around since I first signed on, years and years ago. They've been friends since before I was a mom at all, some even before I was married. Our relationships have evolved a bit over time, but they still occupy a dear place in my heart.

When Jason first told me that he was an atheist, I was fairly alone in that process. There was really only one person in real life who knew all of the ins and outs about it,  but aside from that, I was very limited about where I could share it, which left me feeling quite alone. But what I found, while searching for information about inter-faith marriages and atheism in general, was an online community of doubting Christians. Not people who had doubts in the past, but people who were actively wrestling with doubt and were okay being in the midst of that. It was incredible to me. Questions that I had been asking for as long as I could remember were being talked about, out loud by other Christians. All of a sudden, I wasn't quite so alone.

And part of finding that I wasn't alone online made me realize that I probably wasn't alone in real life either. That realization made me feel much more at ease about sharing some of my thoughts in a more public manner, both here and with some real live people. I don't think I could have had that courage without the help of my online community.

With Facebook hitting 500 million users and Tweets being stored in the Library of Congress and new blogs popping up almost constantly, it's clear (well, to everyone except Prince) that online relationships are here to stay, good or bad. Personally, I believe that they are primarily good (I'll be addressing some concerns tomorrow). I have had the opportunity to make friends from across the country and across the world due to the internet. I've been able to carry on conversations with one of my favorite authors, something that years ago would have been very difficult. I have met people with vastly different views than my own. I've met people with views remarkably similar to my own. It's always a bit of a mystery who I'm going to meet next and that is fairly exciting to someone like me.

Now you'll have to excuse me. It's time for my morning stroll through the Virtual Village. I look forward to visiting with you along the way!

What has been your most surprising online friendship? Where in the Virtual Village do you swing by every day? 
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I'm a wife to an amazing man, and mom to four incredible kids. I'm a Christian woman who sometimes struggles with doubt. I'm a musician and a writer who is sometimes afraid to play and write. I'm trying to be more authentic every day.
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