A modern day penpal reunion

by Kristin on March 25, 2009

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by glennharper

Last night, I finally got to meet one of my good friends for the first time.

That’s the kind of statement that would really throw my parents and grandparents for a loop, but anyone who spends a fair amount of time in the social media realm knows exactly what I’m talking about: I finally got to meet someone in real life (IRL) that I’ve been conversing and sharing with on Twitter and Facebook for almost a year.

Social media demands new friendship categories we didn’t know we needed

I could write endless posts about social media and the many ways it affects community and friendship—both conceptually and in terms of the day-to-day logistics surrounding how we interact. It’s fascinating. Here’s part of what I wrote on the topic last month, in the post Becoming (slightly) more than a face in the crowd:

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?”).

Think about it. The people I follow on Twitter are the ones who break into long, boring stretches of afternoon and make me laugh unexpectedly. They’re the people who spark thoughts and ideas, and keep me up to date on the latest in news and culture. They’re generous with their advice, and sympathetic when I need to whine.

But of the 230 people I follow on Twitter, I only actually know about 15 of them, IRL. There’s another handful that I feel like I know, because they are good friends with people I know well. That leaves more than 200 essential strangers I’m regularly sharing my thoughts with and being influenced by.

Meeting @daisy17 (aka Karen IRL)

Before I met Karen last night, she fell into the “one degree of separation” category—at least if we’re talking about “real life” worlds. Karen lives in New York where she is good friends with my longtime friend Carmen. (Carmen and I became fast friends back in 1994, when we both lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and worked in the same office as writer/editor types for sister publications.)

Karen is one of those people on Twitter that I connected with almost immediately, with warmth and ease. For nearly a year now, we’ve been interacting several times a week, chatting about politics, music, food and travel. I know what she likes to watch on TV, and what she cooks on Saturday, and how much she loves her cats, but I had never seen her, in person.

Then, last night, I walked into a East Village bar, recognized Karen immediately, walked up to her and gave her a big hug. We had so much to talk about, wandering seamlessly from one topic to another, following up on things we already know about each other as if our happy hour get-together was a weekly event. Eventually, Carmen joined us. It was as if we’ve always been a trio of pals. Later, we migrated to dinner and Jason met us, joining together three different aspects of my life around a table.

Of course, we had to tweet at least part of the evening. It just wouldn’t seem right not to (even though my brother, @bill_of_lading, enjoyed giving us a hard time about it—via tweet, of course).

Karen tweeted “off to meet the lovely @kt_writes. feels like a blind date!” I wrote: “at Death & Co in the E Village having drinks w old friend @scheidel and old twitter friend (but new IRL) @daisy17. so fun.“ 

And today, I followed up: “I had *such* a fun time hanging out with you last night. you feel like an old friend.” Karen’s response: “oh, I did too, it was like we picked up where we left off, even though we’d never actually met before. must do it again soon!”

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  • Alli Butler

    Fun! I feel like I was a pioneer for this type of “social media” (ie: having “online friends”) in that Scott & I used to play on MUDS (Multi-user Dungeons) which was like D & D on computers. It was a text-based, multi-user environment that eventually evolved into games like Everquest and World of Warcraft, etc. When we first started, we dialed in on our 2400-baud modem! After losing our MUD community (which was hidden on a college mainframe for years) we moved to a new MUD when I was pregnant with my son (who turned 16 today.) We spent hours playing, questing, programming, designing and gaming with our online “friends” and ultimately knew quite a bit about them. When my son was a few months old we welcomed “Sorcha” “Lleldorin” and “Jesse” into our home – and Sorcha’s seeing-eye dog too! Llel and Jess spent the night – even though we had just met “IRL” that same day. We still hear from “Miraclemax” and “Silly” – all these years later! Scott also met a few other people from our MUD IRL at work. We don’t really play text-based-games anymore – they have been replaced. But online social networks have improved, strengthened and been legitimized over the past 18 years since I was first a member of GEnie (2 years before AOL.) :)

  • http://millersmeetsacramento.blogspot.com Lesley

    I just met a friend through Twitter– and experienced a similar evening at a local coffee shop. It COMPLETELY felt like a blind date at the beginning (what if she doesn’t like me? What if she thinks my clothes aren’t cute? What if we have nothing to talk about?) You’ve conversed with Karen a lot longer than I’ve known Kelli… so I can’t imagine how much fun it must have been!

  • karendaisy17

    Kristin, you were the best blind date ever. (I’ve decided I’m definitely going to make any real/boy blind dates tweet for a week before meeting in person, it’s the way to go.) Twitter makes my world feel simultaneously a little smaller and better connected, and our meeting on Tuesday only reinforced my suspicion that these bonds can be completely real. We picked up where we left off because we’ve *really* been sharing our lives, albeit in 140 character doses, for a year. And there are a million other things I wanted to talk to you about before the night ended. So there must be a next time.

    But I probably should stop calling you @kt_writes in person :)

  • Trina

    Creating relationships certainly is evolving. I havent decided to join Twitter yet, but have linked the lines between online groups and ‘real friendship’, it’s a neat way to create new friendships to be sure. Glad you all had fun, more fun is a good thing!

    Alli: loved the trip down memory lane so to speak re developments on line. I enjoy the memories of my first email connections made so many years ago. I went overseas to school and could keep in contact with hubs back home – oh the dark screen with green letters evokes such memories.

  • Carmen

    I love that I introduced you both to my friend Twitter and within it we all procreated. What wonderful results!

  • http://compostermom.blogspot.com Daisy

    I’d love to meet some of my Twitter and Plurk friends IRL.

  • karendaisy17

    @scheidel are you just now telling me that tweeting can get me pregnant?

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Alli, you were SUCH a pioneer! Sixteen years ago, I was using my Mac classic like a word processor, and didn’t know it could do much else. In 1995 I joined my first “listserve,” which was started by some friends in St. Louis. We discussed all kinds of topics, and I remember being very nervous every time I was about to post something. I never would have imagined having a Twitter and blog community like this.

    Lesley, the blind date comparison is a good one. I love that you were worrying about what to wear. That sounds so much like me. The many things we don’t have to worry about on Twitter, right?

    karendaisy17, I can honestly say getting the chance to meet you was the best thing about my recent NY trip. As my online self and connections become a more prominent part of my life, I’ve been longing to find ways to bridge that world with my real-life worlds/self/community. This was perfect. We’ve been sharing our lives for months, and we were able to confirm that we like one another every bit as much—if not more—in person. (I might just always have to call you Daisy, though.)

    Trina, “linking the lines between online groups and ‘real friendship’” is a good way to put it. One of the things I especially love about getting to know and meet Daisy is that our mutual friend, Carmen, is a link between us. Twitter allowed the three of us to be linked in a full circle (along with my brother and others), rather than just in disparate degrees of separation.

    Carmen, you are indeed the great introducer! You made me feel welcome, like the perfect party host, when I first joined Twitter. Then you introduced me to some great people. And yes: the results are wonderful!

    Daisy, I think you should do what you can to make it happen! It’s a lot of fun. I’m tempted to create a map plotting the people I feel connected to on my blog and Twitter, and then do some road trips! (Where do you live, again? :)

    karendaisy17, too too funny. Almost spit out my coffee. (How would a Twitter condom work, I wonder?)

  • http://www.intersectedblog.com Jamie


    I have a similar story, although my friend and I didn’t wait a year to meet. I met a friend through Twitter and now she’s probably one of the best friends I’ve ever had. It’s amazing!

    I love when the lines blur like that.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Jamie, I’m so glad you and your Twitter friend didn’t have to wait to meet, and that you hit it off so amazingly well! And yes, it’s great when the “lines blur,” as you put it. I’ve been longing for more blurred lines in my life lately, it seems. It’s hard to have various aspects of who you are sectioned off.