Blogging has been slow this week because I've been at Supernova, trying to process the experience of suddenly meeting--in person--scores of people I knew only through "social software." It was a lot to take in. I was talking to my friend Elouise about it this morning, and she said it reminded her of "meeting someone at a church social whom you'd sketched in the nude." Oddly enough, that is in fact an excellent analogy. I think many people do feel as though they're exposing themselves in their blogs, and it's disconcerting for them to then to meet their audience in a real-world social context.
Shelley, for example, talks about the disjoint for her between her online persona (as shown through her weblog) and her real-world self. She speculates that
...those people who write weblogs read by spouses, kids, and employers tend to write differently then people like me who are, for all intents and purposes, obscured from view because we've kept the two worlds far apart.
I think she's probably right. For me, however, the real and virtual worlds have been "intertwingled" for so long that I'm not able to see them as separate worlds. And I suspect that for many of us, that will be increasingly the case.
There's a discussion about this same topic happening on the Emergent Democracy mailing list right now. Greg Elin had this to say:
As more technology becomes more familiar and more commonplace, the dividing line between "real" and "virtual" blurs and becomes increasingly besides the point to discuss outside of specific contexts.
And in response, Kevin Marks cited Shelley's post from above, and added this:
And the way we were blurring the line at SuperNova, with blogging and IRC ongoing throughout, and showing IRC on stage at the end (which I was watching via iChat AV...) was very intersting.
I was the person who put IRC on the screen while they talked. I did that because I wanted people at the conference to see the vibrant channel of communication that was co-existing with the real-world conference in the room. And perhaps most interesting to me about the room/channel mix was the way they impacted each other.
As I told the Supernova audience (in the less than 60 seconds that were left to me after the previous panel ran late) was that as I watched and participated in the IRC conversations during the conference, three modes of activity became apparent to me. When a dynamic, interesting speaker was talking (like, say, David Weinberger), the channel was very quiet. We were taking notes, paying attention, looking at the stage rather than the screen. When a panel presentation with some interesting topics was going on, the channel tended towards discussion of the speakers' comments, which were then augmented by comments from those not even in the room. And when a speaker failed to catch the interest of the room, rather than physically walking out, people escaped into the virtual lobby to talk about everything from socks to the plural form of the word penis. [Damn, now I've gone and tripped the filtering software again.]
Yes, the lines are blurring. Some people already find that frightening. There's a safety, a distance, that computer-mediated communication provides. For all the talk of exposing ourselves electronically, of taking risks in our blogs, the text and the screen provide a buffer, a layer of protection. But I think that for these technologies to reach their greatest potential, they have to become integrated into our real lives, not kept scrupulously separate.
So, even though it was scary and overwhelming to meet so many well-known bloggers at once--Joi Ito, Halley Suitt, Allan Karl, Simon Phipps, Ross Mayfield, Anil Dash, Mena Trott, David Weinberger, Adina Levin, Cory Doctorow, Dan Gillmor, Jason DeFillippo, Sarah Lai Stirland, Arnold Kling, and so many more--it was a very good thing for me, too. It helped make this world of social software more real for me, more integrated into my life, more tangible and human.
So thanks, Kevin, for making it possible for me to be there.
Ross points out, in the comments, the original motivation for this post's title--which I left out in my rush to post before I left the office. Yes, several people seemed quite surprised by my appearance. It seems the coffeeshop photo on my blog doesn't accurately convey my youthful, vivacious demeanor. Or something like that. However, I suspect that they found that interacting with me in person wasn't all that different from interacting online.