I had the opportunity to meet a group of local bloggers who get together from time to time at a local pub. I have "known" these people several years in a virtual sense from local discussion boards and through emails, yet this is the first time I met in person the likes of local blogosphere denizens MadJack, kateb, and Guest Zero.
Certainly the physical characteristics of each person might have differed from mental images that I might have conjured up, but what was more surprising to me was hearing the voices of people who I previously only knew through words on websites. Guest Zero, for example, sometimes uses boldfaced font in his writing to emphasize a point, yet he was almost soft-spoken in vocal tone.
It was also interesting to hear the real-life stories of people who operate online with pseudonyms for personal protection (they are quite wise for doing so, by the way, unlike the rather reckless and out-in-the-open narrator of this blog). Hearing life experiences helped me place into context the particular political and cultural views each person holds, and people are much more willing to share personal information in the safer environment of face-to-face conversation.
We yakked, ate, and chatted for a few hours; no world problems were solved, but no punches were thrown, and I mostly listened and learned different sides of people I knew only from what they choose to share in public. All of these people, of course, emerged as more "real" than their online personalities, but this is to be expected: a software platform cannot begin to duplicate a human being.
Perhaps that is the most important lesson of the evening.