A person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection.
Since becoming a vocal member of the meatspace community, I have engaged in many conversations about the evolution of the relationships forming via meatspace. Many non-meatspacers remain incredulous about the possibility that we are forming authentic bonds; that we are not "real" friends because we spend the large majority of our time together chatting on the internet.
I admit that before MeatconfW happened last May, I was unsure about whether I agreed with the non-believers or not. All of the regulars knew a lot about each other, and I was really excited to spend time with them, and the connections felt real... But... I was still concerned about physically meeting these people, most of whom existed for me as faces and words on a computer screen. I had grown so fond of their online personalities and behavior, and felt so comfortable with how we interacted as a cyber-group-- what if that level of relaxation did not translate to in-person? What if the skeptics were right?
Turns out I had nothing to worry about. After the initial shock of realization that everyone is, indeed, real flesh-and-blood human beings, we settled right into the same delightful interplay we engaged in daily over the internet. I felt at-ease and overjoyed, and DAMN RELIEVED that I had not imagined the connection I felt to these former-strangers.
We spent a conclusively delightful weekend listening to each other's voices, speaking in longer-than-250-character phrases, singing, and hugging. We shared meals, sleeping quarters, and many, many stories. The bond between 37 people of various ages, backgrounds and professions who happened to have met on the internet was official and irrefutable. I have no doubt that profound attachments can be synthesized over the internet, and that those attachments can successfully render in-person.
MeatconfW was two months ago, and many more meatups (at least weekly) have occurred, in Toronto, Paris, San Francisco and more, with anywhere from 2 to 15 meats at each one. Between these get-togethers, most of us still correspond every day, on meatspace, facespace, and multiple other forms of online chat. We choose our methods of communication based on our personal needs at the time-- we might go days (or weeks) without meatspacing when we are very busy with work or family, but check-in with each other via a lower-investment channel, like facespace, IRC, or twitter. If someone does not interact for too long, we worry-- just like "real" friends do.
We have seen each other through breakups, career changes, cross-country moves and personal crises. New jobs have been acquired thanks to meatspace connections, and romantic relationships have burgeoned. Of course, we continue to foster relationships with old and new non-meatspace friends, but even a lot of those friendships have organically incorporated themselves into meatspace.
We have discussed amongst ourselves what we think makes our friendships continue to work. Some ideas we've come up with are:
- The fact that so many (although certainly not all) of us are related to the tech community.
- The bonding that occurs during the shared experience of participating in a new social network and creating a brand-new kind of community.
- Maybe we all needed this in our lives, and were in the right place at just the right time.
- The diversity of the group might feel welcoming in a way that we have not been able to find elsewhere.
- This is a low-pressure but fulfilling alternative to traditional relationships for extremely busy people.
- Those of us who travel a lot like the ability to see friendly, familiar faces all over the world, in all time zones.
I am sure it was a combination of many factors that makes meatspace magic; whatever it is, it is still working.
Every day new people visit meatspace; some watch for a while, maybe interact once or twice, and decide it is not for them. Every so often, someone engages, and we can all feel through the screen that they are at home. Our community grows slowly, but is more solid and sturdy because of that. I do not know if we are still in "The Honeymoon Phase" or not. This type of relationship and community is not well-documented or studied, so I don't know how long the honeymoon lasts. I do know that I feel very comfortable with the relationships I have made on meatspace, and I see them lasting a long time.
I have very few other people in my life that I confide in, laugh with, and want to spend time with, and I most certainly have not felt a part of a "group" like this since freshman year of college (that was a long time ago). When I feel pretty much anything--happy, sad, angry, afraid, frustrated, excited, depressed--I want to share my thoughts with my meatspace friends. They know my family, my history, and my kids. They teach me about life in other parts of the world, about professions I did not know existed, how to experience life in a new and exciting way. They sleep in my guest room and ask me how my day was and they love my dog.
I can only speak for myself (I hope I am not alone in this, because that would be very embarrassing), but sometime along the way, my "meatspace friends" became just, well... my friends.