Saturday, May 8

This One's For My Fans (Or Stalkers, As The Case May Be)

Although I was well aware of the whole South African Muslim Blogosphere (and do in fact take credit in some obscurely perverse way for linking it to some parts of the UK), I never really felt myself as a part of it. This was partly out of laziness and a lack of space in my feed reader - there's only so many blogs one can read after all. But in the main this was actually due to my own hang ups and insecurities regarding online relationships. I'm just going to say it: I find it weird having friends with whom you only communicate via Twitter and blog comments.

Don't get me wrong. Peeing contests aside, I've been doing this Internet thing for a long time now, be it IRC and newsgroups in the mid-nineties, the BBC Asianlife Messageboards (sigh) earlier on in this decade or even this whole blog thing that's currently all the rage. I've met more than a few wonderful people via the Internet and I do understand that you can build pretty solid relationships that have their origins in the ether.

However with all these people I did feel that our relationship wasn't complete until we had met in real life, something I made an immediate effort to do once I realised they were more than just words on a screen. In fact barring one person (who as an aside also happens to be the first person I was able to describe as an Internet friend), I've been able to meet them all in person. Not only that, but I have always been introduced to these people on a one on one and random basis (someone found my blog after searching for "nightmare rishta tips" or something) and not via entering some already established virtual community - one of the fundamental reasons why I refuse to maintain a blog roll over there in the sidebar on the right, and why the words "blog meeting" make me quiver in my boots.

But like I said this is more about me and my old fashioned take on the Internet than any criticism of said communities. For instance, I fully recognise that I would have no where near had such an awesome time here in South Africa had had such a "virtually assisted" (since a lot of these guys knew each other in real life already) community not existed. I do see the real value in them, and will never undermine them as being something flippant or trivial.

But that isn't actually what I wanted to talk about here. Regardless of my feelings of online communities, the fact that I was coming to South Africa meant that I would actually be facing many of the people who made up quite a large and prominent one. This was actually fine for me - as far as I was concerned I was just going to be meeting random new people for the first time. And I love meeting random new people.

I must admit however that I was slight taken aback by the number of people who seemed to already know who I was. From the "you're not as intimidating in real life as you are online" made by someone who had read my comments on the blog of someone I had already met in real life to the "how was the beach this morning?" asked by someone I had just met who had been following me on Twitter, it was all quite weird and perhaps even a little unsettling. I must admit that it actually had an effect on how I interacted with them at first, as guards and self-consciousness both went up in spades. And to be honest I'm still not sure how much each of my new friends already knew about me.

I like to think I'm well aware of how public the stuff I write is: it was more the increased immediacy of feedback than the lack of a level playing field or any privacy concerns that got me. I think what actually took me by surprise was how merged the virtual and real world had become over the last two weeks. Here, instead of receiving blog comments on a post I had written, I was getting real live feedback. People didn't @reply me in response to a tweet, they sent me a text. And unlike on the Internet it's a lot more difficult to dismiss or ignore comments made in real life by people in the same room as you are.

I must stress that this was all temporary though; after a few minutes with a new face they had become real life acquaintances who then just happened to follow me on Twitter or read my blog. Currently the vast majority of people I recognise who follow me or read my blog I had already come to know of in real life first, and for me most of the people I met here in South Africa have now fallen into this category too.

The weird thing is that despite this experience of pleasantly meeting personalities that had only existed in cyberspace, I'm still nowhere near in getting over my issues regarding my participation in the kind of social networking I describe above.

Perhaps I'm just a Luddite?


  1. A Luddite with a genius for machines and a penchant for slippers. Yes, that's how we'll remember you.

  2. I'm with u on online relationships - calling people with whom u have virtual associations "friends" is a stretch when you've never actually interacted with them in real life. That said, I think it's impossible not to have some kind of relationship with the people who read your blogger or follow your tweets.

  3. Khadija,

    The reporting of the abuse I got for wearing slippers is destined for another post.


    The other thing I just couldn't get my head around was the mapping of "screennames" to real people. "Hi, I'm xxx, although you may know me as xxx123" and the like. Why people don't use their real names online is one thing I'll never get my head around.

  4. For me, blogging is largely to unclutter my mind. By trying to maintain some kind of anonymity, I feel like I don't have to censor myself because I'm worried about offending people I know or their judgments of me based on my blog.

  5. That's a major reason I blog too - to "get it out there". Questions I ask sometimes become answered once I put hands to keyboard.

    As for anonymous blogging, I find it a bit of a cop out having to hide from the challenges of people you know, some of whom are probably in the best position to do so. A big part of my blog is to put myself on the line by going on the record. In fact I see little value for an author who blogs anonymously; in fact it could even be seen as a little selfish too. But hey, each to their own.