Increasingly I interact with people I don’t know, or rather, don’t know in the real world. We interact through twitter, blog posts and comments, IRC and email. I start to feel like I know them, but I have never heard their voice or seen their face. These kind of interactions are becoming increasingly common in my life. I find them wonderful, fascinating and enriching, yet they me uneasy and anxious.

I have worked “closely” with Mike Gunderloy over the past few months. I met him through a blog post and he invited me to join a mailing list of like minded folks, which turned into RailsBridge. I got to know his wife Dana by watching her enthusiasm for the courseware project. He helped me created the website for the teaching kids project. He often replies to my twitter notes about rails or web tech and I enjoy reading his tweets about his kids. He and Dana took the lead on making RailsBridge a real entity and are preparing to file for 501c3 status. This morning, I officially joined the board of the newly formed non-profit RailsBridge corporation and I heard their voices for the first time on the phone.

I “know” Zach Moazeni. He is an active member of RailsBridge, and volunteered as a mentor when I was learning about Rails plugins. We spent a morning together via IRC and github gists doing test-driven development and refactoring. He followed up with a code review and I have enjoyed reading his posts on the rspec mailing list and his blog. I wouldn’t recognize him if I saw him on the stream. Sometimes I feel like his is my imaginary friend.

I find blogs to be a valuable resource for technical information and I always look for who the author is. I like to remember that there is a human behind the words. These are not computer generated streams of text served up by google. The other day, I acknowledged a mundane discovery via twitter:

Finally looked up how to increase RubyMine memory usage: http://tinyurl.com/lrpvku (thanks Sam Pierson, whoever you are)

to which I received this unexpected reply…

@ultrasaurus Sam Pierson was the tall British guy volunteering at the workshop last weekend. Small world. :)

This virtual reality where I work and play is a sampling of the real world. The science fiction that suggests that we will all interact in virtual spaces has always lacked credibility to me. My unexpected realization of the morning is that virtual reality is upon us already, but looks different than I expected. It exists in the fabric of the Internet and we experience it as other humans use a diverse set of applications to express themselves and communicate directly. It is largely text, but also twitpics, flickr feeds, YouTube videos and sldeshares.

I wonder whether I will always feel a little uneasy with this new form of connectedness or whether it just takes some getting used to.

2 thoughts on “my virtual reality

  1. We could start holding RailsBridge Board meetings in Second Life. That’d be even more confusing. (There is a SL Ruby Users Group, too, though I haven’t checked in to see what they’re up to for well over a year).

  2. I think that meeting in a virtual spaces somehow might have felt more “real,” but that kind of VR is deceptive. I agree that it would make it even more confusing. In spaces like Second Life, you get real world-like, gestural cues that, I believe, increase a sense of trust. Whereas in the blogosphere/twitterverse veracity is naturally suspect; however, you see such frequent glimpses of human imprint that deception is as difficult as it would be in person.

    This line of thinking has led me to reflect on the old essay “A Rape in Cyberspace” and how, by interacting on our own terms, via blogs, twitter, email and IRC, we innoculate ourselves from such an invasion.

What do you think?