I had the opportunity to meet the incomparable Jennifer Maddrell today. For real. In the flesh. She, her husband Tom, and I had lunch together.
See, Jen and I do a webcast together on Sunday nights called EdTechWeekly. For the last two years or so, I’ve talked to her nearly every week on Skype. We’ve done video conferencing. We do a lot of text chatting. Once in a while there’s even an email exchange. We follow each other on Twitter. We read each other’s blogs. We know each other. Except we’ve never met. Until today.
“There’s not a word yet for old friends who’ve just met,” Gonzo sang. And so it is. I’m certainly not new to meeting people online before developing a face-to-face relationship with them. But something has changed recently. Back in the old days, when meeting online meant forum posts and occasional text chats, you invented your own perception of the person on the other end of the wire. So “NMGROSS” was a person I made up in my mind to go along with the posts she made online. I knew only what she chose to reveal, and I made up the rest. It was no surprise, then, that when I met her months later, the physical person didn’t match my invented person at all. With some people, I even had two different relationships. While I knew that CDIBENEDETTO and Cesi were actually the same person, I still thought of them differently online and offline.
Those days are gone. Dave likes to point out that one of the intimidating things about this interactive, socially-networked society in which we live is that you can’t pretend to be someone you’re not. If you’re using Twitter and Facebook and Plurk and commenting on blogs and interacting with a group of people all the time, your real personality is going to shine through. You can’t hide your motives. You can’t fool people. When you’re immersed in this kind of medium, you are who you are. That makes a lot of people really nervous.
So today, when I met Jen, she was EXACTLY how I thought she’d be. She’s cute, and funny, and has a wonderful personality. It was, at least for me, not at all like a first meeting. We’re old friends. It was nice. It was comfortable. It didn’t matter that we’d never seen each other before. She’s just Jen.
The same thing happened last summer when I met Jeff Lebow. We even talked about it. “Is this what you expected?” “Yeah, it pretty much is.” There weren’t any surprises. It was like old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while. Tonight Sharon asked if she’s going to be “just Sharon” when we meet next summer. Of course she is. And some day, when my path and Cormier’s finally intersect, we’re going to have a great time. These are real people we’re interacting with online. We really get to see all sides of each other’s personalities. And when the occasional face-to-face meetings happen, they just reinforce what we already know about each other.
So… who’s up for meeting at NECC?