Friday, February 9, 2007

Meeting E-Friends, Embracing the Future, and Shrinking the World


I have now been to a total of two mystery writing conventions—Bouchercon and Love is Murder, and both have been valuable experiences. At B-con I met fellow blogger Sandra Parshall, who sat with me and a few other female writers in the bar; we talked about mysteries and other sundry topics. It was lovely to meet Sandra; I had just read her book, and had chatted with her via e-mail several times, and meeting in person was a very satisfying experience.

The same was true of my meeting with Lonnie Cruse; I spotted Lonnie at the bookstore at LIM. She was wearing bright pink, and like Sandra, was just as pretty as her picture. I went bounding up to her like an eager puppy, I fear, and I probably frightened her. Still, it was wonderful to see her picture become real.

This concept of meeting people online first and in person afterward is an unprecedented experience for me. The closest I’ve ever come, I suppose, was when I had a Swedish pen pal, back in the seventh grade. Her name was Gunilla Kristiannsson, and we exchanged letters for years. Gunilla thought she might visit Chicago some day, but alas, it never happened. The wait for each letter was a matter of several weeks, and of course we wrote them by hand, on stationary. It was delicious suspense to wait for each new piece of correspondence.

Now I can talk to anyone in the world with a few brief taps on my keyboard. If I have to wait more than a day for an e-mail I grow impatient. And when I start to become “friends” with someone via e-mail—that is, we seem to have similar interests and find a lot of things to write to each other about—I start to hope that someday I’ll encounter that person in the flesh. Thanks to mystery conferences, this has happened more than once, and it’s an odd phenomenon: it becomes like a reunion. A reunion with someone I’ve never met.

Now that people have cameras attached to their computers, I’m sure it will be only a matter of time before we don’t even crave that physical meeting—after all, we will see them right there, on our screen, and they’ll be looking at us, talking to us, just as they would in person. The Brave New World of computer linkage will make the world even smaller for the average person than it is now. And when it’s smaller, I wonder: will it be a better place?


Judy Clemens said...

I have so many good memories of a pen pal from Washington state when I was a kid in Indiana. He even sent me some dust from Mt. St. Helens when it blew, and I have it to this day. Somehow I just can't see sending ash over the Internet...

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I had a pen pal in Australia. Her name was Susan MacGillivray. That made her quite an exotic to a Jewish girl from Queens. I also wrote to friends at home from summer camp and to friends from camp when I went back home. I was known for writing back the minute I wrote a letter. They gave me a hard time about that, because as soon as they got my letter, it was their turn again. Guess who lives to email nowadays!

Speaking of email, a friend of mine pointed out that communication has come full circle to where it stood in Jane Austen's time, before the telephone, when even neighbors in a village stayed in touch by penning little notes. As the French proverb puts it, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Julia Buckley said...

Judy, that's so neat! There is a certain glamour in a hand-written letter that an e-mail just doesn't have, not to mention that now it's a sort of nostalgia. So do you see the MSH dust as a good or a bad omen? Or just as a sort of Nature souvenir?

Liz, I LOVED mail as a kid and I still love it now, snail, e or other. Is that a writery thing, do you think, or did we just appreciate attention in any form?

Anonymous said...


No you didn't scare me. I was, ahem, tickled pink to meet you! What a great time we had. Like you, I enjoy putting faces to names of people I've met on the Internet. I can't wait for us to get together again. Until then, we will have to be content with emails and blogging together!

I do miss getting "real" handwritten letters now that we've all pretty much moved into the Internet age.

Hugs, Lonnie

Sandra Parshall said...

I've always loved getting real mail too, but e-mail is so much more immediate and casual. Hearing an e-mail friend's voice on the phone is is a great experience, and meeting in person is even better. Each time it's happened, I've expected a moment of awkwardness at first, as we adjust our perceptions of one another, but in most cases we've just sailed right into conversation as if we'd been seeing each other every day. Meeting online friends in person has been the very best part of attending conferences for me. (I enjoyed our time in the bar, Julia! What a group to chat with -- you, Sandra Ruttan, Cornelia Read, Denise Mina, Laura Lippman, and a drop-by visit from Marcus Sakey, the boy wonder in the Killer Year group. Lunch wasn't bad either, with an even bigger group of fantastic people.)