I had some sad and unexpected news yesterday. Someone I’ve never met and wouldn’t recognize if he walked into the room right now is terminally ill and may not be around this time next week.
Let me explain. This person was one of my freelance clients. Although we’d been working together off and on for the better part of a decade, and even lived in the same town at one point, we’d never actually met in person. In fact, we’d only talked on the phone probably fewer than a dozen times. Even so, I felt we sort of “knew” each other. He seemed like a really nice guy and we got a long pretty well in a virtual sense. He even wrote one of my recommendation letters for graduate school.
There was a time ten or twelve years ago when a fairly high proportion of my friendships was virtual as well. I often used to spend a couple of hours a day in correspondence with several people around the world that I’d never met but still felt very close to. In those days, online worked really well for me, because then (as now) I’m often uncomfortable talking on the phone. But I don’t really socialize very much online anymore–nor in person, as it happens, but that’s a story for another day. I don’t really engage in deep correspondence and I’ve whittled my Facebook feed down to about five “real life” friends I’ve known for years. And even then, I check in only sporadically.
Maybe I was just ahead of the curve with respect to online friendships and work relationships. But when you lose a “virtual” friend or coworker, it’s still sad, which says a lot about how different human interaction is now than it was, say, twenty years ago.