It’s a very, very long time since I’ve been near a chatroom. At the beginning, I had a new identity every day. It was so much fun being someone else, and harmless too, because all I was doing was, literally, chatting. I never expected to form any relationships. I didn’t grasp the potential of this internet thing at all.
It’s been over ten years now, and this internet thing completely changed my life, as those few remaining Rise readers who remember this place in 2003 will know. I was chatting before I was blogging. Then I was blogging, mostly about car boot sales and newly acquired html skills. At that point, it was mostly Real Life people who knew about my blog, and I didn’t have a clue that it could ever be any other way. I remember a blog about some students who lived across the world from each other, and had fallen in love, and opened a paypal account for people to stump up for their airfares to visit each other. That was the first time I heard of paypal. I don’t think it turned out very well in the end.
Some of the people who I count amongst my favourite Actual People Who I Know, were bloggers from my first couple of years of blogging: Hydragenic and Turquoise immediately spring to mind. During the whole year-in-hungary debacle, my circle of blog friends grew (and came to be known as the ghouls as everything collapsed around me). My ex blamed ‘people in chatrooms’ for our relationship’s demise, and it was much more complex than that; but the fact that I had a group of friends that did not include him was very hard for him to understand. They helped to keep me sane.
The chatrooms dropped right off as the blog circle got stronger; and by the time I came back to England, alone, I had broken that habit. I felt very much part of what we were then referring to as The Blogosphere, along with a whole raft of others, including the mysterious petedotnu, who I met in a comments box belonging to the aforementioned Hydragenic, or Mr Hg, as we like to call him. Mr Hg invited me to London to a blogmeet, I met oodles of lovely bloggers, most of whom I’m still in touch with, and looked up into the eyes of a very tall man who introduced himself as Pete…. petedotnu.
Pete and I spent the next three years socialising like mad with other bloggers. I’m not going to name anyone else because the chances are I’ll miss someone out and offend them. As I’m writing, I’m remembering all sorts of madness, online and off, mostly around the theme of cocktails (and cocktail sausages). When I moved in with Pete, I left the majority of my old ‘real’ life completely behind. I’m not in touch with anyone from school, university, or anywhere I’ve worked before moving here. In retrospect it feels like it was the biggest party of my life.
On becoming pregnant, I started noticing that some people also blogged about parenthood. Who knew? It had gone completely under my radar until that point. The focus of my circle shifted a bit, but a core of friends remained. Most of those are friends I’ve made through blogging but also met in real life, and chatted with on some sort of instant messenger, and now tweet at.
But the other thing that happened when I was pregnant, and more so once I became a parent, was that I met Real Life people too. Other couples on the antenatal course, mums at the baby clinic, NCT branch committee, people who shared a childminder with me, friends of friends of real life friends, students in my breastfeeding counselling tutorial group, more NCT volunteers, qualified breastfeeding counsellors and antenatal teachers, upwards of 20 parents-to-be per week in antenatal classes, mums at the drop-in groups, parents in the playground, and so on. Real People. Who know me. And if any of those people were to write a paragraph describing me, I don’t think anyone in the blog circle would recognise it.
Last year Pete, Bernard and I went for a pizza in Zizzi’s in December. Four other tables had people I had met in antenatal classes or at the drop-in. I feel more observed offline than on, because this is Karen as a Grown Up, and it Matters. Online friends are my family, I can relax and be silly and serve imaginary cocktails. Try explaining that to someone in the branch fundraising team, while we’re planning whether to use sponsor forms or justgiving.com for the sponsored toddle in August.
This is one of the several reasons why I stopped using facebook, which was cluttered with people who know me for real. I find it too easy to drop my guard and behave like erzsebel when I should be being Karen.