The Coming Attack on Social Security
GAY AND GRAY: Outing Age

The Curious Dynamics of Blog Friendship

blogging bug image Elderblogger Steve Sherlock keeps at least two blogs: his personal blog, Steve’s 2 Cents and Franklin Matters, which is Steve’s “public service effort to share information on what’s important” in his home town of Franklin, Massachusetts.

A couple of months ago Steve, who is in his mid-50s, became one of millions of Americans slammed by the economic crisis when he was laid off work. He is tracking his job search activities and reporting job search tactics for everyone in a special section on his 2 cents blog where he has made compelling use of nature photos to illustrate his story topics.

No matter how diligent anyone is in running a job search, however, there is always extra time and Steve has made his unemployment an opportunity to do things he wouldn’t be able to when working full time. Among those, last Friday, he rode the Downeaster train from Boston to Portland, Maine to visit me.

SteveSherlock Steve and I have known one another through our blogs and email for nearly five years and on Friday, lunching on home-made pea soup and cute little pastries from a good, local bakery, we set about getting acquainted in person. Over the course of the afternoon, we pretty much solved all the problems of the world and I drove Steve back to the train in the early evening.

Not counting dozens of mostly younger bloggers I’ve met at conferences, Steve is about the 15th elderblogger I’ve spent time with in person. It is a treat when that happens and invariably it does not feel like a first meeting. By the time two bloggers get together in the same physical space, they already know a lot about one another. There is none of the awkward conversation there often is between strangers who have just met as they search for common interests.

The nature of blog friendships is a fascinating phenomenon. We come together by chance from around the world and through only the words we write, some people we meet this way become as close and dear as anyone we know in person. After five years of blogging, about half the people most important in my life are now bloggers. I can no longer imagine life without this particular kind of social relationship.

As I have written here in the past and in the Wall Street Journal, I believe blogging is a near-perfect pastime for elders. It keeps us socially engaged at a time in life when, in retirement, we no longer have the daily camaraderie of the workplace, our children have their own busy lives, mobility can become an issue and old friends (and spouses) die. In addition, blogging is an excellent mental exercise that helps keep brain cells active and our minds nimble.

With all that, I still haven’t entirely parsed blog friendships. Our in-person friendships can be described in concentric circles from the closest, inner family and tightest friends to the outer fringes that include regular encounters with, for example, store clerks, favorite restaurant wait people and such.

Those circles translate well to our blog relationships, but it doesn’t explain how we come to love those in our closest blog circle whom we’ve never laid eyes on and in many (most?) cases never will. It is a new, 21st century development that doesn’t fit any of the social groups known throughout the history of mankind.

It doesn’t really matter whether I understand the dynamics of blog friendships; I’m happy for them with or without explanation. And it is such a lovely compliment when a blog friend goes out of his or her way to visit, as Steve Sherlock did last week.

Comments

Have posted twice and it is not coming through. Checking to see if I am entering something wrong.

I had that same very special delightful opportunity last month when I drove down to Texas City to have breakfast with two of my blogger friends. I don't remember when time flew by as fast as it did that morning! :)

It is wonderful that you and Steve were able to spend some face time. You do attract a lot of visitors from the wide exposure you receive through blogging and appearances in other media.

I follow your observations on blogging friendship, except for the thought that this friendship-at-a-distance is a new phenomenon. Some of us have had similar experiences through writing letters or corresponding by amateur radio, to name two media.

I corresponded with two pen pals--one in Cherryvale KS (starting in 1952), the other near London (starting in 1954). Although I came to love them both, and followed them and their families for many years, I've not met either one. I did meet a former "paper boy" to the family in Cherryvale, as a co-employee at an aircraft company. Meeting the "paper boy" elicited the same "small world" response that I encounter in my blogging.

Oh, and I met Hunky Husband via Morse coded amateur radio transmissions in 1956. (He and I, both, have extended-year-friendships with other "hams", of course.)

"blogging is an excellent mental exercise that helps keep brain cells active and our minds nimble."

So true! My mind has never been as active as this. Blogs force me to read and try to understand the thoughts and opinions of others; hundreds of others! Everyday. How would I ever do that in 'real' life?

I'm glad you posted this Ronni, as it is something I've thought about a lot, ever since we visited you in Portland and I was amazed by the sense of comfort and familiarity I felt, right from the moment you walked into the restaurant - in fact, right from when I saw you walk by the window.
I wonder if anyone's done a research study on this topic yet. If so, I'd love to read it.
One could hypothesise that interblogger friendships might prove to be somewhat shallow if they were converted to face-to-face ones and subjected to the rigors of real-world interaction on a regular basis. Yet I have a feeling that they would turn out to be surprisingly sturdy.
And I think that's because we generally form relationships from the outside inwards whereas interblogger friendships form from the inside outwards.
I think I might write an article on this, as it is so interesting. So if anyone has relevant stories around this, I'd love to hear them.

"I can no longer imagine life without this particular kind of social relationship."

Well said, and neither can I.

Thanks for last Friday, Ronni. It was great to get together. Your write up is much better than I could do.

I am still kicking myself for having taken the camera with me but left it in the bag instead of taking a picture of us.

We will get together again and try to get other elders with us at the same time to share the joy of such meetings in person.

I had this same kind of experience off chat rooms when that whole thing was a lot more innocent than it became. You meet people from around the country or world, get to know them and find when you meet for real that it's just a continuation of the conversation.

I have tried to tell a few of my non-blogging friends that it is a good way to meet as it's mostly like-minded folks who get attracted to a blog and then want to know the writer. To me it's a great medium for connecting the world without a professional media in the way. I suppose there is a downside to it with some of the hate groups also strengthening their beliefs by hearing their ideas bouncing back and forth; but you have to take the bad with the good, I guess.

Nice to hear you two had such a great meeting

Great post. Ronnie, I trust you feel welcome 24/7 to visit with me in either of my cities of residence: Atlanta and Tel Aviv (currently)! Sorry, Ollie would need a passport to get a red carpet welcome because my kitty in Atlanta prefers to be the sole reigning sovereign, with all attendant benefits -- hugs, treats, adoring gazes, and play. I have met bloggers in real-time after meeting/reading them online, and each encounter has been a wonderful experience.

Funny that you should blog this because I was about to email you to see if we might get together in Portland in June when I am planning to go to York Beach for several days. I will still email you about it, but, meanwhile, again I'm astounded how your blogging is always a step ahead of my thoughts.

There's something about the sharing of yourself through writing that gives deeper glimpses of the real you, minus makeup, fashion, or all the other social artifice I can think of. At least that's the way I see it, although I know others may argue that we are perfectly capable of disguising ourselves in writing just as easily we might in person. Somehow I don't think so.

I'm delighted to hear you two solved the problems of the world 'cause I'm SO tired of worrying about it all. Thanks! :)

What an uplifting blog entry, Ronni. Made me feel good all over & I really needed that :) Thanks so much. What you've written is so true & it's wonderful that you've made another friend in Steve. And good for him to visit. Five years ago I spent a wonderful vacation with 15 women I met thru a website for women over 55 & it was the best adventure. All or part of the group meet regularly & a "good time is/was had by all!" I feel so fortunate to be part of this phenomenom. Dee

Now I understand why I was so depressed and downright cranky starting last Friday night when my computer got a bad virus and crashed. Withdrawal pangs are awful. I am now using hubby's computer but it is just not the same. I like my own space where I can relax and visit with my cyber blog friends. I seem to "zone out" and relax when visiting their blogs.

My son is fixing my computer so now I can relax and look forward to the weekend when he returns it all well and healed.

Son said if he had not been able to restore my computer I might have had to buy a new one. He said in that case to get an APPLE.Seems they don't crash as much.

I must chime in here to say how much Sven and I enjoyed your visit last fall. We receive guests, strangers, all the time, being a B&B, but you did not feel like a stranger. I already knew you from your wonderful blog, so more like an old friend ...

A few years ago I invited a fellow equine photographer to stop by my place as he was passing through Texas so we could meet face to face. We had been getting to know each other and dozens of other shooters via a professional equine message board for a good long while.

When I told my then 13 year old daughter whom to expect to ring the doorbell later that day you should have seen her face. She was shocked...and I got a LONG speech about safety and internet relationships.

Ha. She had a point of course! And...she had been listening to me. :)

Good Post Ronni. I wish my dad would blog. He is 79 this year and corresponds via email with a group of veterans, but not by blogging, just email. My mom would benefit most and won't even touch the computer because she deems it my father's domain.

I've followed your blog for some time now, about a year, because I am a senior recently retired. I should, and will, comment more if only to let you know how much I appreciate your work here. I'm over in Mechanic Falls and I was unprepared for how quickly the door closed in so many areas of my life when I retired. Blogging has been a great blessing and an activity encouraged by an old friend of many years in Tennessee that I never paid much attention to. Now it is a lifeline. Thank you for all you do in this almost specialized area for seniors.
xoxoxo, Charlie

When I was a little girl and even now as a "little" old lady, I love to write letters. I especially loved when I had pen pals in Israel and could write to them in Hebrew....maybe Tamar would like a "pen pal"? I love your blog, Ronni and it is the only one I have time to read, because I just have too much to do in a day, when the energy level is high, to read other ones. Thank you for all your insightful information.

Lucky me to have found your blog.
Your sharing of thoughts and information are invaluable.

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