You can fuss about your mentions, follower counts, book sales, klout scores, all of that is bubkahs to me in lieu of what the internet has and does afford me in enabling genuine connectivity with likable people I would never have gotten to know otherwise.

This bubbled up the cranium following a series of wonderful twitter direct messages with Maha Bali, she a thoughtful educator in Cairo, Egypt and me a typo prone blogger in Strawberry, Arizona. Part of our exchange was a bit of wondering how we establish these affinities quickly with colleagues we’ve never met.

Someone (drats I cannot find it) recently tweeted something about not trusting someone or considering them experts solely from their twitter messages. Well, no, but we do not work from single sources of information. The *way* people tweet, who they tweet to (e.g. people I already trust?) to me is a great indicator. I sense these patterns, as well as the transparent ones of others seeming to be looking for ego boosts.

It still rings true what I read from Clive Thompson in my first twitter days, from a 2007 Wired article How Twitter Creates a Social Sixth Sense,. Thompson framed a dynamic in twitter as “social proprioception”

It’s like proprioception, your body’s ability to know where your limbs are. That subliminal sense of orientation is crucial for coordination: It keeps you from accidentally bumping into objects, and it makes possible amazing feats of balance and dexterity.

Twitter and other constant-contact media create social proprioception. They give a group of people a sense of itself, making possible weird, fascinating feats of coordination.

I still find this perhaps the most resonant description (to me) of what twitter offers. I crave it’s “weird, fascinating feats”.

If you have ever tried to create a “fake” persona online, especially using twitter, you would know how much work it is to not be you; to shift your language, to not slip and use the wrong account. Unless equipped with a personality disorder, it’s hard to not let the “you-ness” show through, though it may magnify/minify aspects of how you present yourself in person, but the You is nearly always there.

Or maybe better explained by a UMW student when I did a presentation on identity; we have these shifting ways we project ourselves in different contexts- identity is never as simple as a singular entity, its adjusting all the time-

I feel like I have a pretty good gut level sense of people (though not perfect) – I gravitate to people open to new ideas, creative ones, people who are serious about those ideas, but don’t take themselves so seriously, people who can listen, and people who can laugh (especially at themselves). I find I can sense it pretty well in person and online.

The first time I met Brian Lamb at an ELI conference (2003?) I knew I like him as a colleague and eventually a friend, but I also had a context of reading his blog (hey it was pre- pre- twitter). His blog provided the proprioception, and his presence confirmed it.

So I would say Maha, it’s been sort of my internet life time hobby of seeking out those kinds of connections. It’s why twitter appeals to me more than facebook, because there is a greater potential in twitter of proximal associations with people I do not know rather than focusing on the ones I do know.

There was social media before there was Social Media.

Back in the mid 1990s, the places where a similar kind of networking happened on those old fashioned email listservs. I was active on one for people who were creating multimedia with Macromedia Director. You saw a lot of the same social dynamics there as are played out now in current social platforms.

At that time, maybe 2, 3 years into my role of an instructional technologist, I was dismayed by the conference experience, so I had proposed to my director that instead of going to a conference, I’d like to spend the travel funds visiting colleagues at other community colleges. I put the word out on DIRECT-L, and pretty quickly set up some visits in the Northwest, two in Washington state and one in Oregon. The latter was arranged by a guy named Tim Blood at Lane Community College.

It did not dawn on me until we were shaking hands in a parking lot in Eugene, that all of our communication had been via email, not one phone call (that was a big deal then). Tim and I have been friends since; I’ve visited him and his wife in Eugene several times (once with my family), he’s visited here and we’ve done things like a road trip to Zion National Park.

There was a lot of proprioception played out in email, that again, was confirmed in meeting, and staying at his wooded home. Or hiking together in a canyon.

And since then, it’s been more or less my hobby to make ways to visit and spend time with people I’ve met online. On my sabbatical trip in 2000 to New Zealand, I spent 4 days in Rotorua at the farm home of a woman named Laraine, a writer of children’s books who was publishing them on the web in the 1990s after learning HTML from my online tutorial.

And this hobby was the premise for my “odyssey” in 2011, where I traveled 15000 miles over 6 months visiting my online friends and colleagues. From my Big Data– I stayed in the homes of 33 different friends, quite a few of them I had not met before.

The picture that symbolizes most this experience, for the feeling it generates when I see it, was visiting Cindy Jennings at her home in South Carolina:

Cindy Loads Up The Storybox
Cindy Loads Up The Storybox flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

There is something so meaningful for me to remember sitting with her at her dining room table, having met her family, her dogs, having had a meal she prepared. That connection of being with someone in their home, for me, heightens everything about knowing them. In her house, Cindy is surrounded by things and people most valued to her.

So when I think about “meeting” or “friending” people online, I know I can have rich relationships without ever having meeting them. But having that chance to share time on their home? That takes a simple connection to a whole different level. It completely dwarfs meeting someone in a hotel conference hall.

And so I’ve tried to make it part of my travels, to visit who Nancy White laughingly refers to as “imaginary internet friends”, to sit at more tables, in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, all over the US.

Maybe the best framing of this comes from one of these friends yet met- in the wave of support after my Mom passed away on that 2011 road trip, a most treasured response was from Claudio Ceraso, an educator in Argentina I had only known via blogs, comments, tweets. She shared a bit of a reflection on her dream related to my experience:

Maybe I just dreamt of you, kind of trying to be in your shoes. But hey, technically speaking, I do not know you. I first met you in 2007. We’re strangers. And yet, my dreams hyperlink to your news and I hear a strong wake up call, just as when a close friend of your f2f life loses a loved one. Such is the mysterious story of the social web, I guess.

A Spanish poet, explaining what dreams were to him, said: “I only know I know a lot of people I have never met”.

The Internet is like a dream. A real one.

Read that again- I know a lot of people I have never yet. And we don’t have to wait for these dreams to happen to our subconscious, the internet is where we can experience them all day long.

The internet as a real dream, that’s my kind of internet.

I may never get to be at that dining room table with people like Claudio, like Maha, but I know if it does happen, it will be ever as meaningful, and genuine, as these interactions via packets of TCP/IP generated data.

And more.

And these are the connections I seek the most. When others seek massive teaching, and gigagobs of data, where the introductory message is “you will never have direct contact with your instructor”, I long for the granular personal connections.

You can have your Klout score framed, I have my dining room table experiences.

Featured Image:

Conversation in Black
Conversation in Black flickr photo by Pensiero shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


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