I've had skippy.net online for almost three years now. I'm averaging several hundred hits a week, mostly to my linux content. I've received a lot of feedback from folks about my SMB HOWTO, and it's been a wonderful experience to interact with so many people from all over the world! I've also received a bit of feedback from folks about the rest of my site.
But today, something unique happened. Jack from Manhattan called me to share his thoughts about something I wrote. At first I was extremely taken aback that a complete stranger would call me out of the blue to talk about my website! I know some folks are used to it - but not me!
After some reflection, though, I really began to admire Jack's forthrightness. I was also extremely flattered that someone would call to share their thoughts on my writing. And in a sense, it made me feel a little better about some of the insecurities I expressed in the piece; it's reassuring to know that others - thousands of miles away - can identify, and quite possibly feel similarly.
I wasn't here when Jack called, so he left a message. He also left me his phone number (which is how I deduced that he's in Manhattan). At this time, I don't think I'm going to return his call (no offense, Jack!); but the whole experience really got me thinking.
Last weekend I spoke with a very good friend of mine for the first time. I've known Chris for - lordy! - five years, and I've not once heard his voice. We met back in the heady days of Quake, and were teammates on one of the original clans. Over the years we developed a very sound friendship online - through email, IRC, and ICQ. The other day we were trying to coordinate a game of Starcraft and ran into some technical difficulties. Shortly thereafter, my telephone rang. Chris had called me to see what was going on.
Again, I was at first taken aback - we'd never spoken on the phone before, and it was extremely unexpected. It was also strange connecting a voice to a personality that I had known so well for the last five years in text only. It's not so much that I had an expectation as to what Chris would or wouldn't sound like; it was more that I had an expectation never to find out! The thought of voice communication with Chris was simply non-existent for me - we'd been good friends for five years without ever speaking, so why should I change that in any way?
Maybe it has more to do with the style of communication in text versus voice. My friendship with Chris - indeed any of my online friends - is peppered with URLs, abbreviations, running jokes, and other small talk. Such a conversation would be strange indeed over a telephone. A telephone conversation - to me - seems to require a little more direction, a sustained continuity. This same continuity is often lacking in text conversations, as the attention-deficit inducing affects of the internet are brought to bear; and few lines of conversation last more than a couple of comments each way.
And, as I've commented on in the past, text communications are so sterile. It's safe and neutral for strangers to send text to others strangers, because they're hidden behind the phosphour glow of the monitor, the ultimate poker face. That's one of the reasons why Jack's phone call really impressed me - he had the wherewithal to reach out and make a personal connection.
All too often the internet is a completely impersonal experience. I find myself drawn more and more to those sites that really evoke something within me, or that aren't afraid to share something personal. I try to encourage my visitors to think about things that we all too often take for granted. I also try to work through things I'm struggling with, in the hopes that my thoughts and conclusions can help others.