This is a post somewhat inspired by a conversation I had yesterday, although really I've been meaning to write it for a while. It's not something I really talk about that much, though really I'd say that at least collectively people I know online are a sizeable portion of my social life. A minority in terms of meaningful conversation, but still definitely pretty big, especially when I'm not at university.
foul bachelor frog pics because they're pretty funny)
I'll admit it's seemingly a really odd thing to have an online social circle. I guess for the most part it's because I spent high school somewhere that was absolutely fucking miles away and the majority of my friends there live ages away (and in fucking awkward placed to get to with public transport) so meeting up was a bother. I'd spend most of the time either playing outside with the kids in my estate or at my computer. The other thing is that I guess most people don't have some sort of focus that they end up in communities with, so talking to people on the internet would just be at random and fairly meaningless. Plus there's the common misconception from the Daily Mail and tabloids that every person you meet online is secretly some sort of sexual pervert looking to groom and eventually rape you.
I found TetrisConcept in May '06 while trying to find out certain things about Tetris DS, and pretty much every community I've become a part of since then (except 4chan) has been a branch from that. Phydeaux linked to NSider on there, and from NSider I ended up on Outsider and NRG/Orbital, and from Outsider I ended up on TEC. With the exception of the fansubbing stuff in the last year or so, pretty much every person who I'd claim to be friendly with that I've met online can be linked back to TC through Phydeaux and NSider, which is a really odd thought. If he'd not posted that thread then I wouldn't know half the people I do now.
I can't really think what the hell I'd have done with all the time if I'd not joined TC originally. I doubt it would have affected my life too much, and I'd have still probably just pissed the time away watching TV or DVDs or reading books or something (online communities are at least free). I'd have probably gleaned something else in my life, but then I also wouldn't know half the awesome people I do now.
Of the people I've originally met online (not counting CamDC because they don't count), I've met up in real life by my count with eight of them, and to my knowledge at least I've yet to be raped, assaulted, killed, eaten, or any of the other weird things that can apparently happen when you meet people over the internet. In chronological order I would make it to be: Edo, Lardarse/pineapple, muf, Lordstar, KevinDDR, Amnesia, Deniax and Alex. If I've forgotten someone I'm really sorry D:
In particular the long weekend this time last year with muf and his family was awesome, and in terms of basic costs like transport and accommodation and stuff was a really cheap holiday for the amount of awesome (mostly because accommodation was free lol; thanks for that muf) and it was a great few days. While I'm being somewhat sappy I'll also say that muf's friends were awesome too - Roel, Tony and Ewoud, you guys are ace and I thank you so much for the talking in English all the time and the continuous buying of drinks. I know md agrees with me on this as well from when he was there :P
I think it's weird how much Facebook in particular has opened everything up, and Skype as well to a lesser extent. There's still the vast amount of anonymity and non-disclosure of personal information on forums and the like, but now there's a second, far more personal level available on Facebook. It used to be that you'd know someone's screen handle, and really that was all you could be too certain about unless you went to extra effort or met up with them. Now Facebook exists and it's far easier for people to share more personal and interesting things while still maintaining a filter on who exactly gets to see it. It's also a bit of a pain in the ass because I suck at keeping tags on which screen-name is which real name :P
It's still a bit of a weird thing to have, at least among the sort of people I mix with "in real life" but I think it'll probably be less so as more people grow up with the spread of the internet. It's not like it really cuts into my social life with people I see in person either. Sure, you can't have quite the same level of contact with someone over the internet, but really communicating via IRC or MSN isn't that different to talking face to face in the long run. People can put on a persona online, but I've found that at least when you're talking privately with them most people end up similar enough to how they are face-to-face. I wouldn't go for an online girlfriend (in the sense of her living miles away and only being able to communicate online), but that's a bit of a different kettle of fish.
In some ways a really crazy thought is just how long I've known some of these people. I've actually known the vast majority of the people I'm particularly friendly with online since before I was at university, which means that I've known them longer than the likes of Nick, Alex, Chris, Peter and everyone else I know in Cambridge, which is a slightly weird thing to contemplate really.