As MrsD mentioned, we had the pleasure of dropping in to hobnob with several of our fellow wizards in the blogging world during the recent Darwin family travels. At various points in the Great Ohio Trip we spent time with:
And on previous occasions we've had the pleasure of meeting:
The Opinionated Homeschooler
Cranky Conservative (and the missus)
(My apologies to whoever I have forgotten. It wasn't intentional!)
Even in our increasingly wired culture, there's still a slightly spooky air to the statement, "I'm getting together with someone I met online." Not only does it make it sound like one of you has a greater than average chance of being a serial killer, it has a certain antisocial ring to it, suggesting that one spends most of one's time in a basement, smelling of old socks and lit only by the glow of the monitor. I must admit, I'm rather cautious to admit to non-blogsphere people that I originally met some of my friends and coworkers through blogging. "We knew each other in Catholic circles" tends to be my way of explaining it away.
Yet for all that I am hesitant to admit to seeking out chances to meet those we interact with online, I've found it to be a universally positive experience. Admittedly, the etiquette of meeting for the first time someone one has talked to for years can be a little awkward at first. But modern social relations are nothing if not challenging from a social custom point of view. (How as poor MrsD to navigate the traditional "nice girls don't kiss on the first date" stricture when we were both car-less freshman on the same college campus? Our first "date" was a number of months after we started "going out". But I digress.)
For me, the reason why meeting bloggers is so enjoyable is because one has already been able to find out a great deal about the other person through a less socially threatening medium. I am, by habit, a very cautious conversationalist. For all my online opinionating, I'm very hesitant to bring up politics or religion or indeed my more unusually interests in history, literature and languages with people I don't already have some indication would be interested and congenial. Indeed, I usually stick to discussing with people mostly those things in which they have already stated an interest. This leads to safe and low conflict conversations, but with other people who are equally careful in their discussion habits, it can result in never getting too far into any topic.
However, reading what someone else has written over the course of months or years (and reading their comments on my own writing) provides enough of a layer of familiarity that it seems possible to discuss a wide range of topics without too much fear of either alienating (or boring) the other person, or needlessly exposing myself to disapprobation. In effect, the blogsphere acts as a social sifting mechanism. It allows us to form sub-communities of people with at least a certain level of common interest and acceptance. And this commonality makes much more interesting conversation possible. And it also gives one enough information about the specific person to know of possible shared interests, or areas where one ought not to throw one's elbows around. (So for instance, I know not to issue any smack talk against rap when visiting with Jenn and certainly not to bring along a pet scorpion, lest she feel the necessity of instigating a throw down.)
For all that blogging is often knocked as one of the lower forms of communication, in my more self congratulatory moments, I like to imagine the blogsphere as a sort of modern equivalent to the 18th century coffee house culture. Not only did different coffee houses in the great cities like London and Paris and Vienna have different characters (in some people congregated to discuss business, in others philosophy and politics, in other literature, in others science) but there was a thriving genre of one to two sheet daily papers put out by individual writers or writing teams which were distributed to the coffee houses and served as both reading material and conversation topics. Addison & Steele's The Spectator was one of the early successes in this genre, and Samuel Johnson's The Rambler was a late one, but there were many others -- less successful and less remembered. At one point Boswell writes about his wonder at seeing Johnson dash off an issue of The Rambler in one sitting, longhand, and send it off to the printer without revisions. If only my own unrevised (or even revised) writing could be of such value.