Can you really know someone without ever having met them?
Thousands of people — perhaps millions — might say yes.
In contrast, I emphatically believe that it is not possible to truly know someone until you have spent time physically in their presence.
Before the advent of e-mail and online dating services and chat rooms, of course, some people actually used those archaic objects called Pen and Paper and wrote real “letters” to people… often folks they had never met in person and perhaps never would meet.
Certainly many friendships and romances were kindled, even marriages arranged.
However, if we are to believe modern science (and in this case, I do), over ninety percent of communication is non-verbal. Posture, facial expressions, even the way we curl our fingers or the usually-imperceptible smell of bare skin… all play a tremendous role in the way others perceive and understand us.
There is no substitute for in-person interactions, and I daresay, no potential for really knowing someone without such presence.
Of course, this doesn’t stop people from trying, hoping, and believing (including, quite frankly, yours truly in the distant past). Certainly millions of ‘normal’ individuals seek and often find people to interact with via the Internet. Many, who have later solidified friendships or romances in person, would thus stick out a virtual tongue at me and defiantly argue, “See?! You CAN really get to know people over the ‘net!”
Ah, mais non! Sure, you can establish contact virtually and learn about someone… even an enormous amount… but I still firmly believe that you cannot truly understand someone until you literally gaze into his or her eyes.
This isn’t to say that conversing with or meeting people via the Internet is wrong or even useless. Far from it. I’ve had some wonderfully informative, entertaining, and even occasionally reassuring conversations with people online. And less than a year ago, I had the pleasure of meeting in person for the first time a fellow that I had conversed with online for FIFTEEN YEARS! (he was just as warm and interesting as I had assumed, incidentally). In fact, I’ve met quite a few people face-to-face that I originally met via the ‘net, thankfully usually (though not always) with pleasant results.
However, I still get freaked out by those who assume or try to convince me that they “know” me just via my online presence. There’s one fellow with whom I’ve conversed a small handful of times (about mostly superficial matters, in fact) who has recently gushed about how meaningful I am in his life and how he considers me a good friend.
My goodness! He knows my taste in Asian cuisine, the location of my last Europe trip, and the fact that I had a cold a couple of months ago. He doesn’t know anything about my family, my hopes or dreams, my fears, my quirks, my eccentricities. He doesn’t really know me at all!
I’m guessing such mistaken ‘familiarity’ is quite common on the Internet. We see pictures of someone, we see their emoticon smiles :-D, we assume the best of them. We don’t see their angry frowns, we don’t hear them curse out loud, we don’t see their faults. We see a sliver, and a tiny, even subconsciously self-selected one at that.
I was inspired to write this this late evening / early morning by an interesting entry I read from fellow blogger Anders. And for the record, I do not really know him, but I like his writing and I thank him for spurring me to articulate what I’ve been thinking about in this context for quite a while.