While I have my soapbox out...
Actually, not so much a soapbox talk, but more of a continuation from below. I was just thinking about online friends and how you have them and how they eventually become very real people to you - and of course, telling people you know in RL about your virtual life friends, that's just funky business.
I remember that either on Sept. 11 or Sept. 12, I got online to look for Liz. I thought she'd want to talk, but I got Cheile instead - who was absolutely distraught; one of her online friends had been killed in the WTC and she was having a really hard time dealing with it. And she said she wouldn't even bother explaining to RL people about this - they wouldn't understand. In the end, Che found out that her friend had actually faked her death (how horrible is that??), but what Che was going through those first few days were very real emotions, not at all "virtual."
So I've been thinking about that - mainly, how online friends become real people to you and how you start caring about them, their families. You get their emails on a regular basis and usually, they have something fun to share with you. Depending on how close you get, sometimes the letters and conversations can be intensely personal. I know Liz and I - in the four years we've been friends - have had some intense conversations. There's just something so comforting about having a friend who isn't part of your regular routine, whom you can tell things to and not worry about the information getting somewhere "out there" for the rest of the world to know. And in some cases, the two worlds do collide. For instance, I met up with on epal in Boston last spring and introduced her to three of my closest friends - of course, I was quiet about how we actually met (ASC), but my friends are smart - they probably figured out the Trek connection pretty quick ::grin::. I've included Liz in AIM conversations with one of my good friends from college - they seem to get along just fine, good thing ::grin::. After all, they both have to put up with me, right?
Anyway, you can't explain these kinds of friends to RL people. It just doesn't work. The concept of a virtual life and virtual friends is so foreign - they don't understand that there is substance to some of these relationships. After all, it is true that a friend can just abruptly stop emailing and that's the end of it. But in truth, most of my relationships are not like that. I get notes from friends saying that they are sick but they still managed to get to the computer to let me know they are okay. They tell me about when they are going to be out on vacation, or when things have gotten too hectic to sit down and write. And I do the same, because I know I miss them when they have gone "missing" for some time and I'd like to think that they miss me too.