Meeting Keith … (and his lovely wife).

About a year ago I remember a post that I wrote about constant connectivity. I was at that point JUST about to get my Blackberry and was wondering what the impact of this ‘enhanced connectivity would be on my life. Coming from a world where connectivity was mostly acquired by broadband at work and at home, and the occasional open wifi hotspot, moments still existed where i was actually disconnected from the net and had access to nor Twitter, Facebook, im or even Email.

I wondered how it would impact my life, how it would be to be "pulled closer" to the net by tethering yourself closely to your digital lifestyle with this little Blackberry device. Emails at a glance, Twitter and Facebook applications a touch of a button away .. Constant availability of a GPRS data signal to the cloud. How would it change me ?

These where very valid questions, and allmost a year later, my world is a lot different. Not only have I been ‘packing heat’ in the form of my ever loyal Blackberry Curve, I also seldom leave the house without my little white USB-3G modemstick, that offers me broadband connection at a glance, whenever required. So from an "offline world" where "internet connection" means sitting behind a computer either at work or at home, my life has ‘evolved’ into one where my "life in the cloud" does not end when i step away from the keyboard.

One of the area’s where this impact has been felt more then ever is my social lifestyle. You used to have your "internet life" that you spent online. A world that opened up to you once you sat behind your computer or laptop, and your " normal life " where you interacted with others in the "not so virtual world". What has fundamentally changed is the proliferation of that "internet social circle" into our "normal life" Surprising as it may seem, Nyana and I are quite sociable people, but we aren’t really part of some party crowd. We occasionally go out with friends for dinner, and even tag along with buddies to our bi-weekly "sport thing". But a couple that hangs out with friends every other weekend ? That we are not. " Real world " friends of ours know that we are ‘bad’ at setting dates for dinner evenings and .. are notorious for never ‘phoning somebody up’ if they would like to tag along to some outing somewhere. But that is just the way we are. We kinda like to stick to ourselves and enjoy the sparse spare time we have in each others company .. geeking out and having a good time.

Since we both are geeks our ‘digital social circle’ is quite large and also extremely widespread globally (come to think of it, we hardly know any "Belgians" online except a few). But since Twitter, email, Im and Facebook are not only a part of our ‘social interaction media’ when we are AT HOME, they now also follow us along when we are out and about. The Blackberry regularly chimes and beeps with new tweets, Dm’s and elaborate comment threads on facebook are notoriously followed even if we are "away  from keyboard". As a result, our social circles have merged together resulting in casual conversations among the two of us as we talk about "Podfeets latest tweet" and "The comment Dave gave a picture of us on Facebook". Thanks to the Blackberry our ‘reaction’ to these online events can be as instant as spontaneous as the action that pre-empted it. So our twitterpeeps, website watchers, podcast listeners, geek-peeps, KWTV Friends and Facebook buddies have become very much a part of our every day life. Both ‘social timelines’ now flow side by side throughout our day.

Two weeks ago however, we had the exquisit pleasure of melding these two worlds together as, for the first time, we met one of our longtime ‘online friends’ in real life. Since our "social circle" is hardly limited to a certain zip code, THIS encouter was with a good friend (and his lovely  wife) from Canada. Longtime podcasting buddy and host on the AGP Podcast Keith Murray and his better half, were enjoying their holiday in France. An accidental tweet, an Im AND a free Sunday, coalesced into the very first ‘real life meeting’ with one of our virtual buddies.

"Meeting somebody" for the first time, that you have known for years is .. Strange to say the least. Exciting Fun and downright awesome. We had a ball while having a great lunch and showing them around the part of France where we met up. It was strange to suddenly have this "real life friend" right next to you, who knew all the meme’s, all the tweets, the running gags, the inside jokes and the common ‘geek culture’ that was before then only something I could share with ‘virtual people ‘.

It felt wonderful meeting up with people who "knew your online world" who understood you and shared common interest .. while actually being able to "pass you the butter" across the table. After a wonderful afternoon we said our goodbyes and reminisced on the great day we had. A strange, unexpected feeling came over me .. I kinda felt lonely. Kinda "left behind" knowing that there would be no-one in my "real life social circle" that would be quite capable of living up to a "friendship moment" like I just had. What i mean by that is , that there aren’t any people that i can hang out with, who are part of my "web world".. in my real world. Short of me taking a plane and flying all over the globe, that isn’t going to happen either.

The strange realization that I had from this emotion, was that perhaps I was wrong. For years i"ve said that my "virtual social circle" is just as valuable as my "real life social circle" that you can form real friendships online, that last for years and that can be just as intense and real, then any soccer-buddy you might have. And yet .. nothing beats "really" meeting somebody in person. Although I adamantly proclaim that the "net has brought us closer together", seeing one of my podcasting buddies take the train back to far away Canada, has never made me feel "farther away" from all of them.

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