The Web of Intrigue

January 7, 2008 at 4:07 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve never been to a chat room on the web. I’ve never registered with a social networking site. Okay, I joined MySpace as part of researching a freelance story, and I have a Facebook page with my privacy settings firmly fixed at “paranoid,” but I’ve never once looked at the internet and thought “I’m gonna meet me some total strangers.”

I have enough friends, and friends I don’t see enough. I don’t want to meet new people – or at least, I don’t ever go looking for them. I’m not looking for love, either, because I’m lucky enough to have already found it. So it was with some trepidation last Thursday night that I arrived at Nakashima, a good little Japanese joint tucked away in Cambridge St at The Rocks. I was on my way to meet Miriam, the fellow unpublished fiction writer who entered my life because of this blog.

I knew it was her as soon as I surveyed the al fresco dining room on my approach, and she knew me, too, thanks to our becoming Facebook friends early in the correspondence. I didn’t hesitate to stride toward her, wine in hand, smile on face. I’m pretty confident we did not look like strangers meeting for the first time to the others diners. More likely – and more oddly – I think we probably looked more like old, reuniting friends.

The evening began with a series of rapid-fire disclaimers: I don’t usually do this; you’re the first person I’ve met from the web; I never talk to strangers online. I can’t speak for Miriam, but I can tell the readers of this blog that in my case all of the above is absolutely true. I have simply never, ever engaged in any the potentialities of what might be called ‘webbing’ – chatting, dating, mating, conferencing, or befriending through the World Wide Web. It’s a universe hitherto entirely foreign to me. And yet there I was, meeting a woman whose connection to me was entirely cybernetic.

Or so I thought.

And this is one of the truly fascinating things about web-based relationships. Whilst having never forged one previously myself, I’ve certainly kept abreast of all the various exploitations and perversions the web is peculiarly well-placed to facilitate. Lies. Omissions. Exaggerations. Inventions. The web will help everyone from the fledgling fantasist to the filthy fucking mongrel achieve it all.

And Miriam had a small confession to make, a confession I just don’t imagine for a second would have been required had we met under any other normal circumstances, like at a party or a writers’ forum or a backyard barbeque. It wouldn’t have been necessary to confess because she would never have left it out in the first place. In fact, if we’d met in person first instead of on this blog, we perhaps would have searched for the very connection Miriam originally chose to suppress.

I think omission is a really interesting ‘webiquette’ phenomenon. In person, we are often so keen to furnish new people with the interesting details of our lives – if we like them, we want them to know we’re fun and engaging and adventurous. We want to put the facts on the table and let them speak of our value as human beings and potential friends. But something about that exposure when it’s placed in the context of the web makes people, well, pretty damn cagey. Reluctant to disclose. Disposed to omit.

I think this blog speaks clearly for the fact that I’ve never done that. I don’t say that in order to claim any kind of moral victory or badge of honour or in order to make a value judgement on the way others employ and deploy the web’s various conceits. It’s just not my own way of communicating. I like to be as transparent as possible. In fact, I can’t help it. I remember very clearly how surprised I was when, once we’d exchanged Facebook details, Miriam emailed me to say she’d become further convinced that I did, in fact, exist. I was so startled, possibly naively so, and wrote back to say it had simply never once occurred to me that she might not exist, or might not really be the person I thought I was talking to and sharing my manuscript with. We’d both taken such a massive risk on the other; Miriam had my manuscript and I had hers. What if one of us was lying? As I say, this possibility had not even crossed my mind.

Until last Thursday night, at about the dessert stage of the evening, I thought Miriam found my blog because of my post about bombing out of the Varuna Manuscript Development Awards. If you Google ‘Varuna MS Development Awards,’ my post does appear as one of the results. I know because I checked at the time. So I assumed that it was our mutual defeat in the Varuna application process that first brought Miriam to my imaginary door. But it wasn’t.

It was a strange, awkard moment when my new friend admitted we weren’t such random strangers after all. I felt a little perplexed and, to be honest, a little misled. It turns out that Miriam first came to DoctorDi quite some time ago after searching for a friend with whom she’s lost contact. He’s commented on this blog, and it was searching under his name, not Varuna’s, that first brought her to this site. And this long-lost friend of hers is a friend of mine. We were both at his 30th birthday. Talk about sliding doors.

The only thing that made me feel slightly iffy about all this is that Miriam knew she knew something I didn’t know. We had someone in common, and in fact she’s met other friends of mine through this same friend, and yet she’d allowed me to believe no such connection existed. I thought Varuna had thrown us together in the only happy circumstance of an otherwise thoroughly miserable one, and Miriam knew both that that’s what I thought and that it wasn’t true. So why didn’t she just tell me she knew my friend from the very beginning? I don’t really know. I suspect it has something to do with the inherent weirdness of the web, and with the fact that she was commenting on a public site for the first time and felt understandably nervous about it. And in this instance I don’t really care, not finally, because Miriam isn’t pretending to be someone or something she’s not. She does exist – and it turns out even some of my own friends can vouch for that.

And if you’re wondering, yes, we had a good time. I was certain we’d get along in person, after all the weeks of emailing, and I felt sure we’d give each other real and honest and helpful feedback on the manuscripts. And we did. Miriam and I didn’t manage to meet at my friend’s 30th birthday what must be nearly 3 years ago now, but life is funny and surprising, so it’s perfectly acceptable to me that we’ve met now, and I’m looking forward to keeping in touch. Llew met up with us after dinner and MS chat for a couple of drinks, and hopefully next time we’ll both get to meet Miriam’s own partner. Ultimately I’d much rather have our mutual friend to thank for this writing peer’s appearance than a damn writing award neither of us won. And how about that? I guess this means I’ve still never made a friend through the World Wide Web!

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