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Identity, Community, and My Not-So-Virtual-Friends

Without a doubt, the best part of this last week has been meeting all those friends which up until now, I’ve called “eFriends.” I’ve known some of these people for 3 years, but never yet laid eyes on them. In many ways, this has been like what I always imagined a really good class reunion would be like. We already knew what everyone had been doing recently. We knew each other’s interests, fears, and aspirations. We’ve been there for highs and lows. And now, at long last, we know each other’s in-person mannerisms.

Now I wonder, will things go back to the way they were online or will they change? And if they change, what will that change look like? Will we be even more comfortable with each other, or will we become shy now that the subtle protection we’ve enjoyed so far, that cloak of safety in the knowledge that our companions know us but don’t know us? Of course, I hope things will be even more rich and wonderful, but I was surprised to look around one night and wonder if I was becoming shy now that people knew my mannerisms and expressions. “Will they still like me?” I couldn’t help wondering.

But all of this made me wonder again about these online personalities we have. We all bridled a bit when somebody expressed concern during the LSW presentation about the anonymity of screen names and wondered how true community could form in an environment that depends on screen names. And I firmly believe that communities do form in these environments. I’ve felt it. I’ve lived it. But I haven’t decided yet if that kind of community can be the same as a face-to-face community.

I can’t wait to see what does change, and what stays the same. But whatever happens, I’m confirmed in my opinion that these are amazing people. They make me proud to be a librarian and excited for the possibilities that can become reality with people like this put their minds to it. And I’m already pining just a little and wishing I could pop down to the lobby to hang out with the gang.

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2 thoughts on “Identity, Community, and My Not-So-Virtual-Friends

  1. “We all bridled a bit when somebody expressed concern during the LSW presentation about the anonymity of screen names and wondered how true community could form in an environment that depends on screen names.”

    What I have found in the librarian online community that is different from other online “communities” that I have experienced is that although people do use screen names, they are not anonymous. Usually you can find out who they are. They link to their blogs, use their real name in profiles, they talk about their jobs and professional activities. There are few who just show up anonymously and keep it that way. Everyone finds the level of privacy that they are comfortable with, but they aren’t “hiding out” on the internet with a completely different persona from real life. Except for the Annoyed Librarian, of course…

  2. That’s a very good point, Pat, and one that Steve made when he answered the commenter at the session. Personally, I haven’t had enough experience with anonymity actually shielding identity to have picked up on that particular aspect of the worry the commenter expressed, so I’m glad others there had been on listservs longer. My only contact with such things has been in on Twitter and in the LSW meebo room.

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