On a Personal Note: The Internet + I

A few weeks ago I was at a bar with one of my friends after a long work day and the guy next to us asked how we knew each other.

I kind of laughed to myself because I met Melissa “on the internet.” (She’s the second best thing to a book blogger; she writes about Disney!) But saying that out loud to a stranger? You never know if they are going to get it. But luckily for us, the guy was kind of drunk (but sweet) and thought it was nice we met because we both “love Mickey Mouse”.

Even though I’m so wrapped up in happenings “online” (and it seems like more and more people are these days), there’s still this stigma attached to “the internet” for some — whether it’s about dating, making friends, or being nerdy enough to work a ton for no monetary gain on Disney or books blogs. Real life and the internet mesh so much for me that I don’t even blink at these things. In fact, I encourage them.

Being present on the internet has helped me to smooth out transitions in my personal life, make real-life friends who get me and my hobbies, and teach me everything from Disney history to the publishing industry to steaming my own cauliflower.

One of my favorite bloggers posted this “state of the blogosphere” piece recently, and I started to feel so nostalgic for some reason. It made me think about why I got into blogging in the first place.

Did you know I was a writing major in college? After two years of an intensive writing program that led up to my graduation, I was so drained. I didn’t think I wanted to pick up a mechanical pencil again. Or think about fiction. Or even write about my own experiences. (I took a fantastic and pretty much life-changing memoir writing class my senior year.) So I didn’t. I wasn’t even reading books, which wasn’t like me either. I dove into a long-distance relationship with my now-husband (which required a lot of traveling) and I started making greeting cards and watching baseball again.

It wasn’t until one of my dearest friends asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding that I started getting into blogs. I read about how to create a personal and amazing bridal shower until I was “something blue” in the face. Weddingbee will always hold a special place in my heart for that reason. It was full of brides concocting some of the most beautiful wedding events I had ever seen or thought about. I had my heart set on being a Bee contributor when I got engaged. So I started writing a blog about wedding planning, and I applied.

I didn’t get it.

I can’t even tell you how crushed I was. I cried a lot. I felt like it was such a lost opportunity because I knew I was a good writer, and I knew our wedding would be amazing and our process could help others. But I think a lot of my problem was voice. Finding my own. Being myself but also saying something that sparked something in others. Maybe my voice sounded too much like the others on the blog. Even though I wasn’t an official Bee writer somehow I became associated with the blog anyway, and this was how I fell into Twitter.

Oh, Twitter, love of my life. You have brought such wonderful (and difficult) things into my world.

This is the thing about the internet. There is always a new bandwagon to jump on. Staying afloat in this crazy rabbit hole is about doing what works for you. (Even though it’s hard not to get swayed by shiny things.) And I do think it works best when you are yourself. When it’s not always about perfection and beautiful pictures and graphics. Are you a person or are you a brand? I can easily write about how wonderful I think something Disney related is, and then turn around the next day and talk about something else within the company that doesn’t work for me. This is real life. Honest opinions. Changing judgments. Connecting to other people who may or may not feel the same way too.

But there’s a danger in connection too. How can you tell the difference between people who build themselves up like a product and the real ones who want to actually know you? I have fallen into this trap before, and it hurts a lot. To think you are building this relationship with someone only to realize they have been creating this persona and it’s really more about them than you. I’ve been too trusting, too honest, too willing to give a true piece of myself to some people that I have been tricked by the “friendliness” of social media and the blogosphere. And it’s so easy for that to happen to anyone. Said person wants to show their best self and it is not always their true self.

Even though these internet connections start on a screen, that next step, bridging that (cyber) space between blog friend and real life friend, requires the same faith and trust you hold on to when making a new friend in any other environment. There’s still the same chance it might not work out. For whatever reason: you don’t click, the expectation is too built up, or you just don’t have enough in common to keep it going. (It’s kind of the same way we pick and choose what blogs we dedicate our time too, isn’t it?)

With blogging, friendship, or even being a dedicated reader of someone’s internet space, there can be a lot of disappointment. It can be competitive when it doesn’t even have to be. But that is just the nature of human existence, I guess. That just means there’s that flip side too. Even if you never speak directly, you might draw inspiration from one person and see your life reflected in someone else’s. Ironic or not, this internet world really does make us feel less alone.

For me, “the state of the blogosphere” and the sense of community go hand-in-hand. My tastes are always swayed by those who seem sincere and honest. And that’s another thing that doesn’t just apply to the internet. I feel like sincerity and truth are two things I expect (and deserve) in my daily life too. So the more I talk about, or the longer this post gets (ha), I realize that line between real life and the internet isn’t really tangible vs. imaginary. It blurs even when we aren’t thinking about it.

23 thoughts on “On a Personal Note: The Internet + I

  1. jennyburgo says:

    This post rang very true for me. Engaging with people online is wonderful – bridging that gap into RL and explaining to your “real life” friends who these people are can get dicey.

    I have also found that the desire to be ‘popular’ is just as real in my online life as it is in my real life, and sometimes following those who don’t seem as sincere seems to be a product of that. It’s interesting to see how that plays out online v. IRL. And sometimes sharing opinions that aren’t as widely held can be scary too! But it’s your forum to do that, isn’t?

    Great post — I don’t comment here a lot, but I read all the book recs and all the personal post and you and Magan run a really wonderful site <3

  2. Tiff @ Mostly YA Lit says:

    Fascinating post, Estelle. I feel like we are definitely in this state of wanting complete “authenticity” in our communication online. We want a brand to answer as a person. We want to know real people, not just people who are promoting themselves. And yes, we deserve that online just as we do in real life. But, as someone who works in public relations, I’m always, ALWAYS cognizant of how I present myself on Twitter, on my blog, on all social media…so I always wonder whether I’m actually putting myself out there, or it’s just a version of myself. I always wonder about taking that leap to real life – whether people will like me, whether I will be the same. I want to be me with my voice, but I do feel like social media is a bit of an easy way to be the best part of me. I feel like I’m definitely funnier and a better “talker” online than I am in real life. So, does being that “best part of me” online inform who I am in real life as well?

    All this to say…thanks for making me think, Estelle. I love this post.

    Also, I watched your video with your reading husband yesterday, and you guys are so cute! I read in bed with my husband all the time, but we’re not picky about turning away from each other =)

  3. Anni says:

    Love this post, Estelle. But it makes me sad in a way because I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been mostly lucky in who I’ve met – and I’ve made a few of my closest friends online! – but at the same time, there are definitely those people who come across as so sweet & kind online, and then you meet them, and they don’t even seem to care.

    I will say, I feel like the roughest part of the genuine connections we can make online in maintaining them. Most days I feel like I can barely keep up with my business online (especially during wedding season!) and then I realize that it’s been months since I’ve made it to my friends’ blogs, or started a G chat session. And that really does suck, because I feel like if we lived in the same city it’d be so easy to say “hey, let’s have a wine night!” and unplug for awhile. If that makes any sense at all?

  4. Layla says:

    YES. This recently happened to me. I think you know most of my friendships were started online (which to me, makes them no different that in person friendships) and one person recently revealed who they really are. That’s just as shocking to me online as it is in person. I consider myself to “know” my online friends and it’s weird when you find out that you don’t, not really. And all it took was that one person to instill distrust in me for a whole group of people, which may or may not be fair. However, it is what it is. I think it taught me a lesson about my online friendships and their sincerity factor, or lack thereof, at times.

  5. Jessica T says:

    Wonderful post my friend! So well said and I think a lot of us can relate. We get wrapped up in the twitter conversations and blogs and do we really know who’s behind that keyboard?? I try to be honest and I am now questioning how I even come across online!! Really something to chew on…

    Love you friend. Glad the internets brought us together! 😉

  6. Rebecca says:

    I have to confess that I have had so many experiences of getting really emotionally connected to someone via the internet, only to find out I only knew one part of them, that I don’t let myself connect as much anymore. Which is not to say that I am NOT interested in getting to know real people – I so am! I love it! I just hold back from that final step of completely feeling like a Real Life Friend, for a *really* long time. It’s not intentional. I guess I’ve just been burned. I have some internet friends I’ve never met in person whom I’ve known for 13 or 14 years now and I do consider them really true friends, but it seems to take nearly that long for me to get there. I always feel kind of guilty, because I can usually tell if someone else has gotten to that point towards me, and I can feel myself holding back. It’s tough, and it’s specifically because when I was younger most of the people I met and felt very close to ended up being… well, not who I thought they were, and not giving what I expected of them. In retrospect, I think I expected too much, and a lot of that is therefore on me – I’m talking about when I was a teenager. But it did change me and I try not to expect anything from anyone now, and there’s a detachment as a result.

    On the flip side, I’m always *really* delighted when I *do* get genuine friendship from anyone. 🙂 Does this make sense? Or does it just make me sound like a cold jerk? LOL! This is a terrific post, btw. Very thoughtful and got me thinking a lot, too! (Of course I end up thinking of “Am I a bad friend?” because that seems to always be my first move: to judge myself. LOL!)

  7. Sash from Sash and Em says:

    Internet friends ftw! I remember when I was going to meet up with you last summer and my coworkers were like “seriously? your “friend” from the internet? that sounds creepy. call me when you get home so I know you’re safe.” HA. <333

  8. Angie says:

    Great post. I have met several friends over the internet. Of course none of them live near me and I met them all on goodreads and have been able to get to know them more on facebook. Glad I am not the only one! I do a project on my blog called Project Disney where I read the books based on the movies and review both the movie and book. You’ll have to check it out. I love Disney!!

  9. Quinn @ Quinn's Book Nook says:

    What a wonderful post, Estelle.

    I loved when you said” this internet world really does make us feel less alone.” I couldn’t agree more. The MAIN reason I started a blog was because I saw how close some bloggers were with each other, even if they lived in different places, and I WANTED THAT!

    I mean, of course, I love books, and expressing my feelings about books, but more than anything I wanted to connect to other people.

  10. molly @ wrapped up in books says:

    Estelle, I loved this post. I was active in a couple other online communities before getting into book blogging, and I have made many friends this way that have translated into real life friends. I also appreciated that “state of the blogosphere” post you linked to. I tend to favor blogs that have a personal and conversational tone over ones that are more promotional.

  11. Aneeqah @ My Not So Real Life says:

    Estelle, this is truly a gorgeous post. I feel like there’s this stigma attached when you say you met someone “off the Internet”. I was trying to explain to my parents a while ago how I knew someone so well at a book signing, and why we were chatting it up even though it was the first time we had meant. It’s a hard concept to grasp, sometimes. But it’s true that the lines are blurring every day. Although I feel like this makes it hard for true geniunism to show up sometimes. I’m always trying to make sure that my blog is ME and I’m who I am, but sometimes when we get caught up in the competitions, it can be so, so hard. It’s the people that really count whom really bring me back, though.

    Gorgeous post, Estelle, really. This is kind of blowing my mind.

  12. alice-jane says:

    I connected with this post so much. It’s a really thoughtful post. I feel myself holding back from online stuff sometimes and I feel bad (I guess I can’t take the jump from online to IRL just yet). Part of it may lie in the fact that I’m afraid that I might become disappointed in people once in IRL or that I’m disappointing to others. Definitely though, the question of genuineness is still in my head.

  13. Melissa @ Writer Grrl Reads says:

    This is such a well-written post, Estelle. I didn’t realize that you’d studied writing; I thought you were just naturally so good at it! This post rings so true. Since I friended a few of my blogger buddies on Facebook, I find myself mentioning these friends in conversations, such as “My friend in Texas said….” which sometimes leads people to ask, how do you know someone in TEXAS?? And the response is that awkward, “Um, we met on the Internet?” Yet, I feel so blessed to have made these blogger friends, since you all love reading as much as (or even more than) I do. I have friends that read, but none that are as passionate about reading as I am, so it’s so wonderful to have friends to share my passion, even if they live far away and we’ve never met in real life.

    In a long winded way, I just wanted to say thank you for publicly, and so eloquently, staring that online friendships are real and genuine. Especially the bookish sort 😉 xoxo

  14. Alexa Y. says:

    Well, this post is just brilliantly written. You did a great job expressing your thoughts on this internet-person-friendship thing (I’m just making my own combination of words right now, clearly). I know we’ve discussed this before, but I definitely mostly agree with what you have to say here. The people who I love the most on the internet are the ones that come across as just that – PEOPLE. Not brands, not packaged blogs, but real people that I can be friends with. While it’s not always easy to tell what kind of person a blogger is based on their online persona, I like to remain hopeful about the friends I make online becoming friends in real life (like you, obviously).

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