Lately, I've been thinking about the friendships I've made online, the friendships I would like to make and/or further cultivate online, the nature of online celebrity and the interplay between a desire for online relationships and the desire for online privacy.
I love the friendships I have made online. None of them have yet turned into in-real-life friendships, but that is something I can imagine happening with a few people if the circumstances and distances could be arranged. There are a few people I would very much like to meet in person, and who I think would fit in with my real-life friends and family quite well. (There are, of course, others that I realize I would probably never be friends with in real life. We're too different. But I treasure those relationships too because they expose me to different perspectives and ideas.)
I would like to have better friendships with a few people I've met online -- both in-person and more online contact. Just like in the real world, there are always people I wish I could get to know better.
Then there are people I would like to get to know at all (let alone better) online -- people I read avidly, but with whom I've never had the pleasure of true (online) conversation. These tend to fall into two categories: 1) active "popular" posters on discussion boards and 2) internet celebrities who have many more fans than they could ever establish meaningful (even online!) friendships with. (My definition of "celebrity" tends to mean "authors" -- the ones who write amazing fiction, run in the same online circles I do and inspire me with their blogs and online commentary in addition to their published works.)
I don't think this is an entirely unusual desire. I think most people crave connection with those they view as cool, or popular or talented. I know that in real-life I've always had (usually unfulfilled) desires to make friends with groups and individuals that I thought were cool, smart or attractive. In high school, it was the older crowd of New Wave kids (which included my husband!); in college, it was the groups that included attractive boys I had crushes on, etc. I've always wanted to be part of in-groups with people I respected or looked up to, and part of that is wanting to be part of a group that I view as having status. These desires are a normal part of the human experience.
What is odd about having them in an online context is that there is actually a possibility of fulfilling them. Whereas the New Wave kids in high school were a group I clearly had no chance of joining (they were 17-18, I was 14; they were out-going yet insular, I was shy and withdrawn) and real-life celebrities are clearly unapproachable (they have security and no one really wants to be that crazy stalker who interrupts their meal at a restaurant or drives by their home address!), popular posters and online celebrities are different. They openly invite conversations , reply to comments and seem to both encourage and enjoy the friendships they make via social media.
The way to establish these relationships seems fairly clear:
1) On the message boards, respond to posts by the popular people. Send them private messages where appropriate. Basically, engage where openings exist.
2) Respond to authors' posts on lj and Facebook. Try to be entertaining and not just a kiss-ass. Cultivate conversations.
3) Make your own posts/profiles public. Most celebrities or truly popular online personalities are not just going to follow you because you follow them (and on sites like Twitter they can't see your comments to them unless they are following you or your tweets are public.)
#1 and #2 are deceptively simple. They're easy to do, but hard to do well. No one wants to be Paul from Grosse Pointe Blank following the hot girl around going, "Hey Jenny Slater. Hey Jenny Slater. Hey Jenny Slater." There's a knack to being interesting and out-going without being a pest or a weirdo stalker, even online. I'm not sure I've found that knack yet, so I've shied away from this approach.
#3 is even harder. My current default position is to lock everything down. I know just what can be found online about a person -- things than can impact job searches, current employment, family dynamics, real-life friendships, etc. Putting your real personality, thoughts and feelings out there at all, let alone publicly, can be dangerous
. It's possible to create online accounts that don't tie to your real life, but it's hard to keep them separate. Even if you use an anonymous name and e-mail address, the minute you start sharing details of your personal life, even camouflaged, your identity could eventually be determined. Is that worth it so that you can have conversations with a cool person or a celebrity?
Currently, I walk a very delicate line. My lj, Facebook and twitter are all locked so that I have to approve someone before they see my posts. This keeps me marginally safer than public accounts, but impedes my ability to make friends with authors, etc. I haven't decided if cultivating friendships with people I admire online is worth the loss of my privacy. I'm very torn about it.Crossposted from dreamwidth.org here where there are comments. Feel free to comment on the dreamwidth post or on lj!