It’s easy to confuse me. It doesn’t take much. I even manage to confuse myself on occasion. There have been times when I’ve told a story with such conviction that I actually believed it had happened, that I’d been there. I have had dreams, too, that I’ve recounted as fact and have been surprised to be contradicted in retelling them as such. But this week, I surpassed myself in my ability to delude.
One folder in my portfolio career involves working with a Swiss-Maltese cooperation with offices in Malta, Serbia, and Switzerland. My colleagues are spread around the world and it’s not unusual to have four or five countries at a Skype meeting. We rarely use video and mainly rely on voice or chat.
Some of us are together this week for the Geneva Internet Conference and on Monday, the team began arriving from their respective four corners of the world. I was in the office when K walked in.
‘Hey – how are you? Long time no see… it’s been ages’, said I, full of enthusiasm as I’ve a lot of time for her.
‘You know we’ve never actually met, Mary’, she replied.
It takes a lot to render me speechless but I was gobsmacked. Never met? Of course we have. I recognised you immediately. I know you.
The last time K was in Malta was 2009. I didn’t get there until 2010. I went back through every conference and meeting and event in the intervening four years and she was right. We’d never actually met in person.
If ever there was an argument in favour of social networking and social media and virtual get togethers, this was it. We’d been in contact so often over the Internet that she had become real – very real.
The flip side though was that it scared me a little. There are days when my grip on reality is tenuous at best, a fine thread that could snap at any minute. I’m fully aware of my ability to romanticise, to fictionalise, to visualise; I don’t need any encouragement.
Later, as the conference participants began to arrive, I saw some familiar faces – Internet governance is a fairly specialised subject and there are probably 80 or so key players worldwide so lots of the faces are the same. I got chatting to one delegate who told me how great it was to see me again. I tried my damnedest to keep my pathetic attempt at a poker face in place but failed miserably. Apparently this was the third time we’d met, in person, and I would have sworn it was the first.
This turned my world upside down a little. The blending of the fine line between virtual and reality was a little disconcerting. Here was one person I’d never met in person yet it felt like I had; and another whom I had met in person a number of times, but could have sworn I hadn’t.
Perhaps it has something to do with what’s called the online disinhibition effect that allows us to be more ‘real’ online… Something to think about.