The death of a long time member of my online community this week has, naturally enough, sparked some thoughts about the nature of intimacy on the internet. Over the ten plus (and that’s a big plus, I just find it difficult to remember that far back) years I have been involved with community writing sites like the one I developed and those that preceded it there have been a few people that have passed away. In the case of some of our most stalwart friends we have been fortunate if the family remembers us, or if one of their online friends has bridged the gap between virtual and actual friendship. Other times people just disappear. With no word from the ether that is the great unknown of ceased communication there is no way to ever find out what happened to that person. They just vanish.
Of course people come and go all the time – that is the nature of what is essentially a hobby to most. For those of us that really love our communities and do not move away to a new neighborhood it would be more comforting to really understand and know where people go. I think many people, even people who frequent social media, forget the strange nature of the internet. Whether I know you as Wyatt at Pan Historia or by my Twitter moniker Panhistoria often all you have to go by is a screen name, a bit of personal history shared, and then poof one day I could be gone. All I have to do is not login again, wander off, embrace some other interest, and it’s like I never existed.
It’s a weird feeling because very often it means that online relationships do not have closure or even memorials, despite the copious feathery trails of chatter and correspondence, posts and images. Many people solve the issue by getting real and swapping names and phone numbers and taking the play off the stage and into the audience so to speak. But even for those of us that are very selective about making that transition, or who value the wonderful transformation from everyday to magical, we still value our online friendships just as strongly. It’s important to know what happened to our friends, why they vanished from our circle, from our daily routine.
With that thought in mind I thank the family of Meritites/Mirjam Nebet for remembering her online family and letting us know so that we, like any community, can mourn her passing.