Becoming (slightly) more than a face in the crowd

by Kristin on February 27, 2009

in Love, family & community

Photo by Andrey Maximov

Most of you are probably all too familiar with the “25 random things” meme that’s been making the rounds on Facebook (again and again). Even if it’s gotten a bit out of control, I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed learning things I didn’t know about my friends.

Now I want to learn some random things about you, the readers of Halfway to Normal. I’m going to see if we can turn this meme on its head.

Lately, I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about how social media is changing our understanding of community. In a high-stress moment of fear this week, when my daughter was injured, I reached out to my Twitter community—mostly people I’ve never met in person. Knowing they were there, so to speak, was comforting.

I find that I’m becoming more open-minded about creating bonds of friendship with people I’ve never met in person. At the same time, though, I sense how old-fashioned I still am about friendship, and how I’m grasping for ways to “bring it home” with people I’m getting to know on line. I want to pick up the phone or get in my car and meet you halfway. I feel compelled to put a stamp on a card and send it to you snail mail, or do anything that makes me feel like we’re actually connected, and I know you a bit better (or maybe in a way that seems more “legitimate?”).

Adjusting our privacy/transparency controls in social media

Here on my blog, it’s easy for me to feel a closeness with many of you. We keep up a lively, interesting dialogue, sharing stories and perspectives. In the comment he left on my post “What we learn from moments of fear,” JebDickerson said this:

There’s an interesting intersection occurring at this moment in time, and I believe it’s unlike anything that has preceded it. Our ability to connect is unprecedented, at least in terms of breadth…though, certainly in my experience, depth as well. P’raps it’s a bit pathetic, but I’ve had more meaningful conversations with you, and others around the web, than I have in years with people I know and talk with in person.

At the same time, it’s so surreal to be pouring out my heart and mind here on a regular basis to so many people I really don’t know at all. More than three-quarters of my readers are just statistics on Google Analytics—I know you’re out there, but that’s about all.

Another reader, Betty Duffy, said it perfectly in a comment she left on my February 12 post about social media, “How fast can you really add?” Here’s an excerpt:

The thing I find interesting about blogging, is that it’s sort of like sending a personal letter out to whomever wants to read it. Personal blogs can seem very intimate even if they’re selective in what they present. As a consequence, I can read your blog, feel like I know you, yet if I choose not to comment or make my presence here known, you have no idea I exist. It’s so odd.

Step to the plate, people! (pretty please)

I’m not trying to call anyone out, or make you feel like you’re not allowed to lurk. If you like what you’re reading at Halfway to Normal, and you really need to keep on lurking, for whatever reason, that’s cool.

But unless you have a good reason not to, speak up! You don’t have to say anything profound or witty about what you’ve read here. Just tell me something random, whether it’s big or little—you come from a family of 9 kids, or you’re a cancer survivor, or your passion is cake decorating, or you want to travel to Figi before you die.

I’m just really interested in knowing something about who’s out there. I want a clearer, more comprehensive picture of this community. I realize we won’t automatically all be best friends, just because a handful of you tell me one thing about yourself. But it’s something. It’s a start.

(Oh—one more “getting to know you” thing. If you’re wondering why some people who comment get pictures of themselves, and you don’t, it’s because they’ve signed up at Gravatar for a globally-recognized avatar. Check it out! I’d love to see your face, or at least something that visually represents you.)

If you have a blog and like this idea, I hope you’ll follow suit and ask your readers to tell you something about them. We can start a whole movement of bloggers getting to know their audience, rather than the audience always hearing about the bloggers.

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  • LisaNewton

    At first, with online relationships, it’s hard to take it to the next level, like just calling someone on the phone. Although I haven’t had too many opportunities to take next step (I’ve never attended any blogger conferences), I’ve had three online relationships that went offline. All three of them are very special and meaningful, and went on for several years, with two of them still continuing today.

    I always try to remember that behind every word written online, there is a face and a person attached to the keyboard typing the words.

    Thanks for the invite to share a little of myself (although I’m not too much of a lurker on your site………………….:)

  • Ashley

    Stepping up to your plate – I’m in awe of everyone who is able to freelance for a living. I want it so badly but I have no idea how to go about starting. My writing is fair but I’ve never actually submitted anything since college. My fear of not succeeding vastly overcomes any desire to try this out, and my nagging “I-told-you-so” in the back of my head keeps me at my day job feeling bored and confused.

    And an addition – thanks to Chuck and his attempt at creating an online community, I feel a little closer to everyone he’s showcased for his under-appreciated blogs project. It’s weird to me feeling closer to people I’ve never met than to people I talk to on a daily basis, but I have nothing in common with most people I work with. It’s just work – I don’t have any kind of satisfaction from it except a biweekly paycheck. My online friends, well, we have a common bond.

  • TJ Hirst

    Come back to me. Isn’t that what we say when the teacher asks a question and we want a minute to think. I’ve chosen carefully how much information to give out online so as to not invite intimacy with everyone. So, it is a little tough, but not impossible to develop those bonds. I think the number one thing is keeping in contact and developing consistent reading of each other’s blogs and Tweets.

    But, still, here’s some other get to know me things – I’l do five.
    1. I’m a Midwesterner at heart. I was raised in St. Louis and dreamed of the day I could live in a high rise in Chicago. Instead, I settled in the middle of Minnesota. Happy here, too.
    2. I’m a nurturer. When I become a mom I asked, what is it I do all day and why do I do it. There had to be something more than temporal needs. I discovered nurturing. It’s what I do best. I nurture lots of people and not just my kids. Nurturing applies to any relationship.
    3. I’m tuned in spiritually, at least I try to be. Personal faith and commitment to religious devotion and service are important to me as member of the LDS church.
    4. I express myself. I’m not shy about saying what I think, although I’m learning with age about when and where and how to do it respectfully. I need to write to understand myself and the word around me.
    5. Creativity drives me. I like to find it in others and cultivate in myself.
    So, that’s me. I’ll take your challenge and make this into a blog post for next week. Great idea.

  • Jeb Dickerson

    I’m a dreamer. An idealist. Despite many disappointments, I remain convinced that it (where it = the life I pictured for myself when I was but a boy) exists, and that one day I’ll find it.

    My idealism, ironically, is often hampered by cynicism and doubt and I’m certain this is why the ideal and the real have yet to mesh perfectly in a consistent way.

    I question almost everything I do. Not always in a way that suggests a mistake, merely as an opportunity to reflect, and recognize what I’m doing well and, more importantly, what I might do better.

    I’m working hard, lately, to forget everything I just said and be content. Right here. Right now. In this very spot, this very moment, as I am. Seems to be enough for my boys and my lovely wife…perchance it’s time to let well enough alone.

  • Sarah

    Hi. I’m a lurker. But I know how much I like to hear from my readers, so I thought I’d say something random about myself:
    I’m a Senior in collage, and I just decided on a major. Yay!
    I really enjoy your posts.

  • Anne

    I’m more of a lurker, too, but here’s some from my 25—

    I always burn my hands. Always. It’s like I forget every time I cook that stuff is hot and I shouldn’t put my fingers in boiling water – or grab a pan right out of the oven. Seriously it’s really stupid. My hubby calls me asbestos hands.

    I love reading and don’t get to read enough books these days. The first book I remember that really grabbed me was “The Boxcar Children.” I think I read it in 2nd grade and it totally made a reader out of me. Have been ever since. I just checked it out from the library to read again and totally know why I loved it.

    I don’t like it when the salesperson comments on my selection when I buy a CD, book or rent a movie. I don’t know why…

    I don’t ever want to work a “real job” again. It’s hard to be your own boss, have constant deadlines, work nights/weekends etc. but having tasted the freedom of freelancing I never want to work in an office again. When my son is older I want to be home when he gets home from school.

  • Lori-Lyn

    So often I find that I read a blog post that resonates with me, but don’t comment because I can’t think of anything to say other than Wow or Yes or Thank You — which, I guess, would all probably be better things to say than nothing.
    I read your blog, l love it–it feeds me spiritually. I am in awe of how you can articulate sublte and difficult subject matter.
    I’m a writer (mostly fiction) and a Reiki practitioner and a seeker. (I also love my pug. A lot.)

  • Becca

    Hm, I lurk in lots of places and rarely post because I’m introverted and feel like I don’t really have anything important to say. But you already know that about me, since we’ve known each other for more than 13 years. :) I love reading your blog because you think and write about so many of the same things I do, but you’re able to put it into words that I never could. I love and admire you (but not in a creepy way, internet!).

  • Shell

    Awesome idea! Hmm…I live in Alaska. I went against social norms and got married at 20 and we are thriving. I never wear makeup. And, I take photos of everything.

  • Kristin T.

    Quick note to all: When I wrote this post I was sort of worried it was a dumb idea, but I have to say how much I am LOVING hearing about all of you. Amazing. Keep it coming!

  • Laura Tamayo

    @Ashley – Chuck rocks! Thanks to his little experiment, I have several new great blogs on my reader, this one included.

    @Kristin. This idea isn’t stupid at all. I always wonder who’s lurking on my blog–other than my mom.

    So here are three completely random things about me. And I just might follow TJ’s example and make a blog post of it. But that’s for another day. Here we go.

    1- I LOVE coffee. It’s not just the drink, it’s everything it encompasses. There are a million little lessons I learned overhearing my family talking over coffee. And so many moments with my husband, my friends, strangers, mentors, etc. Coffee is an experience… that tastes good with cream and sugar.

    2- I dream of having my own private library some day. So far I have about 500 books.

    3- There’s a whole mess of things I wish I wanted, but I don’t. You know, like I wish I wanted to be a vegetarian. It sounds so healthy and appealing. I especially think about it when I detox. But in the end, I don’t actually want to be one, I just wish I wanted to be one.

    Anyway, nice to meet you!

  • Pace

    Hi there! (:

    I’m Pace. I’m very random, so I’ll tell you some random things about me.

    1. I used to be really good at Dance Dance Revolution (DDR). I won a few statewide competitions. I still play for fun, but I don’t compete anymore.

    2. My favorite game is called Zendo. It’s kind of like Mastermind, but way way more interesting because it’s open-ended.

    3. I used to go to sports games with my dad just because I loved the nachos and pretzels.

    4. I’m color blind, but it only bothers me in those silly match-3 games. I stack yellows on top of light greens and wonder why they don’t disappear.

    5. College (Carnegie Mellon) was the first place I met anyone weirder than me or smarter than me.

    6. I used to hate ducks for no reason until a few years ago. Then I stopped.

    7. There’s a word I really hate. I realized after I started typing this that I’m not going to want to type it. It starts with a T and means “fabrics”. I HATE that word. Please don’t say it.

    8. I can pronounce the alphabet backwards.

    Nice to meet you! (:

  • Cobalt-Blue

    Hi KT,

    This is a great idea– finding out about your readers. I eat, breath, and sleep music. I teach it, perform it, and listen to it, and most of all LOVE it! Being classically trained, my new venture is playing in a jazz band. I read how your dad played his clarinet at your wedding. That must have been special.

    I enjoy reading your blogs because they make me think.

    Take care!

  • Pam

    Just discovered your blog and find it to be a great delight. Aside from the fact that we must be neighbors (I guess that makes me halfway to Normal also), I also just enjoy reading your perspective on spiritual issues and everyday life.

    Looking forward to enjoying your blog for a long time to come. Not sure if I will ever cross that line from “audience” to “friend”, but please know that I am an appreciative reader and a like-minded soul, nestled in this city-in-the cornfields.

  • Rebecca

    I’ve commented before, obviously, but here’s something new about me that’s related to this post. I love blogging. Love, LOVE. But I’m worried that I’m building online relationships at the expense of real ones, and since I’ve never been good at letting people in in the first place, this is extra scary. Sigh. I feel better saying it out loud :)

  • Elaine Tolsma-Harlow

    OK, I think the Twilight theme should be played on this one. The wonderful unrelated bone marrow donor, who donated her marrow to save my life & I were born in the same hospital in Florida, 7 years apart. I only lived in Florida for a short time & have spent the rest of my life in the Great Lake States. And no, we are not related in any way shape or form, just one of those weird things…

  • Trina

    I observe, that many in online communities do their utmost to communicate with great care. Words are chosen carefully to convey the intent since we lack the benefit of the facial/bodily language that would accompany it. Certainly there are those that unleash their ‘qwerty’ tongue, but they dont last long. I am aware that not all truths are necessarily laid bare, but if it’s with malicious intent – that is their problem. These observations are a huge part of why I believe online communities work so. I enjoy what you have to say, therefore I stick around, and comment occasionaly. I appreciate the chance to be a bit more known by you. So….
    I. I leave behind more typos than I care to admit to, but, hey, I taint perfect.
    2. I love being home for my family.
    3. I wish I crafted more.
    4. I wish I would ‘just do it’
    5. I love to ‘stop and smell the roses’

  • Daisy

    I’m a fairly new reader, a commenter rather than lurker. I’m a midwesterner, mom, wife, teacher, and blogger. Stop by and see mine some time!

  • Trina

    BTW, meant to add, ( so much for careful planning haha) that I love what I learn from the many out there. Today I learned of Gravatar, thanks for that KT, so next time I comment I may well have some other part of me their too…

  • Mark

    This is a nice idea, although the cynic in me thinks I am being experimented on for a book proposal…but I don’t want to be accused of being a lurker or worse.

    I find your topics typically timely and interesting–I have always enjoyed your writing style. I do not always agree with what you write (although most of your readers seem to ALWAYS agree which gets a little too campy for me).

    Ok, about me, well, I hate talking about me, there’s one. I love stringed instruments, drinking tea out of my grandmother’s Johnson Brother’s china I inherited when she passed away, gardens and working in the garden with my wife and kids to name a few. The truth is I like too many things, jack-of-all-trades, master of none.

    I find nothing more peaceful than standing in the middle of a river with a bamboo fly rod right before twilight flicking my line out in hopes of seeing one more break in the water. Or equally, quietly waiting in the woods to see a bird that I’ve been following for what seems likes hours. Those last two remind me of a favorite Dickinson poem: “Hope is the thing with feathers.”

    Hope is the thing with feathers
    That perches in the soul,
    And sings the tune–without the words,
    And never stops at all,

    And sweetest in the gale is heard;
    And sore must be the storm
    That could abash the little bird
    That kept so many warm.

    I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
    And on the strangest sea;
    Yet, never, in extremity,
    It asked a crumb of me.

    Oh, and now I am curious why your reader Pace afraid of the word “Textile”?

  • Lorna

    Well, since I do know you face to face, I’m not who you are looking to hear from here, but wanted to comment anyway! I won’t go on and on about how much I enjoy your writing, or how fun it is to see so many people discover you, or what a joy I experience to be in everyday life with you, (I do & it is) but instead I’ll just say thanks.

  • Jonelle

    I’m fairly new at online life (Facebook, Twitter, blogs) because my three kids, husband, and tendency to take on more than I should keep me very busy. I’m also an extrovert with bookclubs and running groups and girls’ night out, so staying tied to a computer makes me a little nervous. But, I’m finding that I love this time I give to myself. I love meeting new people, and yes, I do feel like I’m meeting you. What you share in your blog and your tweets is my chance to see a part of you and share in your life, good and bad. I was an English major, got my Master in English, and teach high school English, but I’ve never had a lot of faith in my writing ability. You can tell through your blog that you love words and what they can create. Wow…I’ve “shared” more than I thought I could. To wrap up, here’s a few of my 25 things…
    1. I’m always striving to be better…a better wife, mother, teacher, friend, daughter…
    2. I’m training for a half-marathon through Team in Training (the Lymphoma/Leukemia Society).
    3. I don’t like when people don’t like me. I take things way too personally.
    4. My dad died 10 years ago and I miss him every day.

  • Leslie

    Hi, Kristin! What a great idea! I love your blog, and I hope you never get all the way to normal!

    Random things about me:
    1. I hope to re-career from advertising to life coaching someday, in a few years.
    2. I’m a blogger wannabe.
    3. I’m teaching myself to draw with Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

  • Jamie

    Well, I’m not a lurker, but I’ll comment here. =)

    I live in California. I am so into blogging right now that everything that happens in my life (minute or large) becomes a post in my head — headline formed and all.

    I’m still trying to figure out if I will ever be able to be successful in my career AND have a successful relationship.

    My favorite dessert is crepes with Nutella.

    I’m living back with my parents (something I told myself I would NEVER do, but here I am) and I actually love it (something that surprises me every day).

    Annnnd, I think you need to add a little option under your comments so I can get all the replies to this post emailed to me.

    Thanks for writing – I love your blog!

  • Vicki

    I found you in Twitter and now read your blog. I’m so glad that Q wasn’t badly injured.

    I don’t have human kids but I love my kitties dearly and I know all too well that piercing feeling when something goes wrong.

    I live with my hubby and our 4 cats in the San Francisco area. I’m originally from Pennsylvania. I prefer the weather in California.

    I’m a writer, a programmer, and a techie. I think the WWW is one of the best things to come along in forever! Best thing since the personal computer.

    And… thanks for asking.

  • stef

    i’ve commented a few times, so i’m not exactly de-lurking here, but i liked this post. also, i haven’t done the “25 things about me” meme yet (although i DID try to do “25 albums” meme…and didn’t quite make it). so if i post a couple things here, does that mean i don’t have to do the meme? :)

    just a few things:
    1) i lived in scotland from august to december last year to be with my boyfriend as a “trial run”. it didn’t work out. as i quit my job to go, i didn’t have one when i got back, and still don’t (even though i’ve been looking). i kind of hate it; it’s the first time i’ve been unemployed since i was 13.
    2) i wouldn’t mind visiting Fiji, but the place that tops my list for “places to go before i do” is Iceland.
    3) i love the smell of patchouli on a man. maybe this is a throwback to my college hippie days, but for some reason, this earthy scent makes me want to climb walls.

    hm…i may build on this and end up creating my “25 things” list anyway. thanks for getting me started. ;)

  • stef

    oops, sorry. i guess i used the wrong email address in my previous post…here’s hoping my gravatar loads this time.

  • Kristin T.

    Happy Saturday, everyone. I’m planning to do a follow up post to this one, which will include my responses to the glimpses you’ve shared into who you are. That’s why I haven’t been responding to you directly here, like I usually do. I wanted you all to know again, though, how VERY much I’m enjoying hearing from so many of you. I feel more connected to you, which makes me think this little online community “experiment” is working! :)

  • Gregory

    I completely understand the urge to connect to online friends in some more tangible (or, old-school?) way, like by sending a postcard or chatting over a cup of coffee. My online friends feel just as real as my neighbors and co-workers — sometimes moreso — which creates a warm feeling of community in queasy contradistinction to the fact that I don’t really know any of you. At least not in the traditional sense.

    In college, my friend Eric and I discovered that we had very different goals and motives for our social interactions. He liked keeping friends and acquaintances in isolated bubbles, well-defined spheres such as “science-lab acquaintances, “old friends from high school,” and “college dorm friends.” On the other hand, I really enjoyed mixing my different crowds, blending and juxtaposing colorful characters from all aspects of my life. We discovered this after he marveled that I knew the names of people who worked in the shops near our college, and I wondered aloud why I’d never met his Mom when she lived less than ten miles away.

    We decided I like a “fluid” social life, and he likes a “segmented” one, and it became a long-standing joke between us that explained a lot of things over the years. I tell this story because my online friends feel like the newest extension of my desire for a fluid life. If I like someone, I want all the other people I like to know about them and like them, too. Online interaction creates these circles of common affection and makes them easier to find and form. And yet I’m still occasionally plagued by the notion that these friendships are somehow less-than — shadowy and tenuous at best, completely Matrix-y and artificial at worst.

    A while back on twitter, @swallner and @kt_writes were sharing thoughts about motherhood or managing a household or something, and I was struck by the Six Degrees quality of the connection: @swallner is the sister of @amyjones65 who I met when I joined a book club years ago with @warnoj, one of my best friends. I’m @bookhouseboy, and I went to grad school with @heathra, who is good friends with @bill_of_lading, brother of @kt_writes. These people live in four different states. I’ve never met the people on either end of this chain face to face, but through twitter, I feel I know them well. Both of them are connected to me through chains branching in completely different directions.

    That @swallner and @kt_writes can share joys and frustrations and find common ground, thousands of miles apart and without even knowing how they got connected, is a powerful new part of the human story, one that excites me a lot. Millions of these Six Degrees connections must happen every day, helping people feel more loved and appreciated, less isolated and misunderstood. And that’s the most human kind of interaction I can imagine, even if it happens through high-tech media and machines.

    Wait… I was just supposed to say a few facts about me, right?? Sorry.

    1. I’m a former English teacher turned school librarian.
    2. I love taking long road trips alone, as long as friends await at the other end.
    3. A little part of me is always longing to return to Disneyland.

  • Nisha

    I never intentionally tried to be a lurker, but I guess I ended up one because I subscribe to so many blogs it’s impossible to comment on them all. I agree with you that I’m always wondering who’s lurking on my blog. Anyways, I do really like your blog, and it’s great to see another blogger from Champaign-Urbana :) A couple things about me: I am extremely restless and want to travel somewhere all the time (I think it’s the born and raised in Illinois thing that constantly makes me want to get out of here and go somewhere new). I hate money, I think it destroys everything and takes all the fun out of life. So much so that I refuse to even think about money, which just gets me into even more trouble.

  • mothershaffer

    Hi KT, I think I found you originally via Twitter and liked your blog, so I added you to my blog roll. I’m new to blogging, couple months now and new to Twitter and all that. I’m a bit of a lurker, hoping to learn how to do things right and getting a handle on what I like about other people’s blogs so I can make my meaningful and entertaining as well. Keep up the good work and hope to get to know you better some day.

  • The Modern Gal

    I’ve been blown away by the quality of the friendships I’ve forged with people whom I met online and eventually met in person. Because they know so many intimate details of my life and I know so many of theirs, it feels like we’re long-lost friends when we first meet in person. It’s such a wonderful yet surreal experience.

    Let’s see, some random facts about me: I write for a living. I’m an only child. I believe that we must strive to make ourselves happy if we want to make others happy.

  • Matt Cheuvront

    KT – you asked and (more than) received. A lot of the time I feel like I am pouring out my thoughts and ideas and not getting a whole lot in return, which is totally cool because I just love writing, but I would love to get the ‘silent lurkers’ to speak up on my blog as well – I see all these views and clickthroughs I am getting and it’s awesome, but discussion and engagement is the name of the game with me.

    (so if you are reading this here and make your way over to my blog – get involved there as well).

    Some random facts about me – I came up with the name of my blog, Life Without Pants, totally out of nowhere, I still don’t fully understand it. I love Hummus, and whenever the song “Everywhere” by Michelle Branch comes on, I sing it out loud – and sometimes question my own masculinity in the process :)

    Great blog – glad I stumbled across it!

  • jenx67

    I love the 25 Things About Me posts – even though I can’t bring myself to do it. I don’t know why. Seems some-centered. I even wrote a post, 25 Things About You, which linked to 25 different people in my blog community. But, it left so many people out, it just seemed better not to put it out there.

    Great post, as always. I do love Betty’s comment.

  • ChristinA

    When I was in fifth grade you helped me try out stringed instruments in the SJHS Orchestra room. I chose the VIOLA, and played all through school, including undergrad. Your (wonderful) dad told me about your blog in December 2008, and I have enjoyed following it ever since. Thank you, for both!

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  • Emma

    I see this is from awhile back, but since I’ve been hanging around…

    I’m in Texas, married, raising two young boys (4 and <1). Although I feel a strong desire and responsibility to be home, accessible to my kiddos, I fantasize about what I’ll do beyond the home when both boys are eventually in school. I think I’d like to do non-profit work with women facing crisis pregnancies. It’s funny, I used to generally hate the company of women. God turned me upside down (or rather, right-side up), and now I love women!

    I found your blog in random internet surfing. I love your style: it’s fresh and transparent. By your use of words, I still think you’d like the novel Love Walked In. I’m a sucker for photo blogs, so I love that you take time to incorporate pictures! These days I feel like I’m just barely holding things together. Husband is five years into a Ph.D. program, hoping to graduate this Winter. I want to enjoy life right this moment, especially in light of my boys; I also feel (guiltily) like our burdens will lighten when he settles into a job with family-friendly hours and pay. When we eventually move into a house, my first dream purchase is a big wooden dining table. I love food, and blessing people through meals.

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