Over the years. I’ve met quite a few different people by way of the internet; people with whom I’ve found a wide range of interests, and corresponded with in more than one language. In most of the situations, I learned to recognize an icon, or a name that meant very little to me. In real life, I believe I have a talent to understand people when face to face with them; when watching their faces as they speak, or even watching them without much speaking or activity. But this is not possible when receiving comments on the blog, or exchanging mails about computer programming, science, language or literature. Even when people tell a little about themselves, they mention what they think is important at a particular moment, or react to something you’ve said. And it is much harder to get to know them, than it is when meeting with a person in real life. And this is without considering the possibility of someone deliberately misrepresenting who he or she really is.
There are many people out there who are apprehensive about exposing themselves to hundreds of people that they don’t know, and this too interferes with getting to really know another person in cyberspace. People’s icon can be a quick sketch, or the photo of a pet… or a picture taken from nature. Or a picture taken 20 o4 30 years ago when they really looked good, according to their own opinion.
Yet there is something about a person that seems to come through even dry comments regarding abstract subjects. Or messages read between the lines. Sometimes, discovering that another person has a set of opinions, that really appeals to you, or enjoying the humor expressed between the lines, or a well put smiley from time to time, is enough to develop feelings and a sense of relationship with someone you have never met. A few lines that flew through the air in a virtual conversation are enough to give you the feeling that you ‘know’ another person, or to provoke real feelings regarding a virtual friend. It is amazing. I have had acquaintances that I started edging away from after a single comment, and others who I barely knew, but started considering a ‘friend’ after something was shared. But through the time, I’ve always had reservations, after the first few meeting with online friends. Because, from my first experiences of getting to know people I had met on the net, I realized that I had missed more information than I had gained in that sort of communication.
And still, because there is a certain intimacy possible between people, when the communication is direct, from mind to mind by way of words, without all the distractions of personal presence, without the sound of the voice, the smells, the style of clothing, differences in height, differences in taste or preferences, I have often had the desire to get to really know a friend I’ve met in cyberspace. There have been cases, where I met with a correspondent, and instantly felt as if I’d known him all my life. And there have been other cases, where after a short while, all I wanted to do was to disengage in the most civil and respectable way possible. Where I suddenly realized that something about the other person was unacceptable for me. I will never forget the meeting with a man I had been corresponding with for years, an intelligent and creative person… but on meeting with him, became extremely aware of the fact that he had absolutely no sense of humor.
I think that is why, when I was finally about to meet my friend Bill, I mentioned to him that I was a smoker. Here he was coming from the other side of the world, and we had shared ideas and opinions about a number of subjects… but I suddenly remembered how unpopular smoking is in a lot of places, and he might not want to be in proximity to a smoker. As careful as you try to be, there are always surprises; things you didn’t think about at all. He is younger than me. Comes from a completely different culture. Has different interests in life; different hobbies, and a different life style. But I really like his photography, and I had the impression that he enjoyed my writing style. We’ve known each other for some time now. A number of years, in fact. We got to know one another on a platform that we’ve both left since then… and followed each other to other places on the internet.
Yesterday, we finally met in Jerusalem. I was quite optimistic, but didn’t know how it would go. He had come to visit my beloved city for the first time in his life. And he had Mrs. Bill with him. I don’t mention her name on purpose. Because he has never mentioned her name on his blog, for as long as I’ve known him. I think he’s reluctant to expose her to the unknown public.
It was a very interesting and moving experience. We felt truly friends from the moment we met. He was a little different from what I’d imagined. But despite all the differences, I found that I had more in common with him than I could have imagined. We shared similar tastes and similar attitudes. And it was a great pleasure sharing with him a few of my favorite places in this, my home town. Mrs. Bill was a real sweetheart, and it was a great pleasure getting to know her. And though she mentioned she was a bit shy, I hadn’t even noticed! All three of us had cameras ready, and we shot the same scenery in different ways, and took pictures of each other. Bill took a picture I really liked, of myself talking to his wife in a restaurant where we had lunch, and I would like to include that picture in this post, but I still haven’t gotten it from him, though I know I will eventually get the shot.