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Everyone is a stranger – until they're not.

It's kind of obvious but something we forget when it comes to building connections, both online and offline. Even our family members are effectively strangers until we get to know them; proximity means that happens a lot quicker than with others so we forget.

I wrote that the key to social interaction online was the sense of community and place we build. Once things scale too far it is impossible to maintain both.

Tracy expands delightfully on this in her post Building community out of strangers in which she says:

I used to think of blogrolls as for people I knew IRL, but I’ve come around on it. Hence, my blogroll is full of “Internet strangers.”

Back in February, Jeff Johnson wrote I do want to go back to social media, likening it to an addiction: "seductive because it gives the illusion of friendship. It's the ultimate in low maintenance, no effort friendship." That's not friendship at all.

I've had a few thoughts on the often parasocial nature of online relationships in my notes since February but didn't really know what to do with them. Reading Tracy's thoughts that reading someone's blog for a long time means you create a (one-sided) relationship brought this back into focus for me:

It’s a different modality of relationship than we may be used to in person, but it’s real: a parasocial relationship simmering with the potential for deeper connection, but also satisfying as it exists.

My notes included "I don't think it's being truly parasocial but gaining an insight into someone's world. Obviously, you can start to engage and build a relationship over time that might go beyond the blog." And that is what I have been trying to do, more so recently.

I always say that I want to get to know the person behind the words, the whole person, not just the persona they may present. I am always looking for that deeper connection. This has definitely inspired my deciding to join the pen pals movement.

The blogging community is an ideal playground for introverts. Being an introvert doesn't mean that you don't want to interact with others or that you want to be alone and antisocial. Instead, it's harder to put yourself out there and make contact, harder to interact in busy social settings, harder to maintain the energy levels required resulting in the need to retire to more quiet spaces and recharge. Introversion can often be seen as a barrier to doing what you want to do.

Blogging allows you to get out there without that barrier, the social complexities or physical and mental strains. The combined act of writing and reading is a way to get beyond that awkward initial phase without the avoiding eye contact and embarrassing silences.

The relationship surrounding a blog may began (and indeed stay) as parasocial but the longer the 'getting to know you' phase of reading continues the easier it is to build on that – especially when the reader is also a blogger.

At its core, blogging is a solitary activity with many (if not most) authors claiming that their blog is for them – myself included. Yet, the implication of audience cannot be ignored. Indeed, the more an author embeds themself in the loose community of blogs, by reading and linking to others, the more that implication becomes reality even if not actively pursued via comments or email. To quote Tracy:

Even when the conversation isn’t direct, blogging is community the way neighborhoods are

We inhabit the same spaces and, although seemingly unaware of the presence of others, this leads to that sense of community and place – a feeling that we are not alone. It is an organic process, different for each person – we have to find our own way there, absorbing the culture by digital osmosis. It cannot be forced but we can give a little nudge by reaching out, a guiding hand via comment or email.

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