The worst of winter hits us all this time of year. The darkness of the Soltice takes a month or so to sink in, and we have arrived in our discontent of Winter right on schedule. This is a time for friends and family huddling up with whatever warmth we have. I’m very pleased to have seen how many friends I have out on the internet, just in time for the chill outside.
The Weblog Awards have ended, and I was beaten badly in the category of Best Culture Blog. What made it all worth the effort was the support I received from many people I wasn’t counting on through the whole effort. Barataria was added to a number of blogrolls and I had twitter replies of encouragement nearly constantly. That’s the kind of warmth the cool glow of a CRT doesn’t usually deliver. Thank you, everyone!
But this isn’t the same as the friends I had as a child. Back then, connections were made on our bikes peddled through the thick air of Miami in an everlasting summer memory that only grows warmer with time. It wasn’t until 1985, when I first gained ARPAnet access, that the idea of a “virtual friend” would appear in my life. I had to move on to Pittsburgh to do it, leaving my childhood friends behind in the memories.
A graveyard shift as an operator of Carnegie-Mellon’s computer system eventually gave way to boredom, which gave way to using BITnet chat to send one-line messages to strangers around the world. Gradually, we got to know each other. If nothing else, we were part of a small band who had access to this amazing new technology and could use it for … well, something trivially stupid. But it was fun.
Over the last 24 years, online access has moved from elite to geeky to remarkably ordinary. My virtual friends clearly outnumber the ones I’ve met in person, although I’m always eager to have a beer or a coffee with any of you if you’re in Saint Paul. Mobility defines the Middle Class in the USofA, which invariably means that friends are left behind while the stories that add up to a life are carried on. We all have the cultures of so many places jumbled up inside of us, recalled as memories of times spent well with friends we once knew well.
Recently, the ordinariness of the internet has allowed everything to catch up. The beep that signals mail rings; someone I have not seen in 25 years has contacted me on facebook with a few stories of their life I did not know. They were married, had kids, became a professor. They weren’t left behind but scattered across the nation in meandering paths much like mine. The old stories all come back, this time as virtual friends that I don’t have to leave behind. It’s as if they are only a quick bike ride away once again.
This great warmth in the middle of winter is not quite the same as friends who come over for dinner or meet us at Tom Reid’s bar. But it is a wonderful thing to have when the air becomes thick with cold and the walls of the house are all the horizon I can handle. Thank you, everyone, for your friendship and the stories we’re making together. That’s what life is made of.