yesterday i did something that used to be impossible.
i shuffled down a line of people waiting to order food, scanning faces. i stopped at someone, head-down, tapping (a message to me, it turned out) on a white iPhone.
"Diana? nice to see you!" we hugged. to the best of my knowledge, Diana and i had never before been in the same room at the same time.
that's how i met an old friend for the first time. describing it that way makes it sound paradoxical, oxymoronic, …impossible. but in the moment it felt natural, comfortable, real. that the first words out of my mouth weren't "nice to meet you" surprised neither of us. we already knew each other. you don't need to stand on ceremony with friends.
how do friendships build to that point? the answer is a little bit of the real world and a lot of the internet. in this case, our lives both orbited around Ann Arbor, MI at roughly the same time. we acquired mutual experiences, mutual friends…spirals and concentric circles, never crossing. but we became aware of each other's existence, and followed our subsequent revolutions around the country and around twitter, the web, soundcloud. because we followed each other, we were able to realize that our paths finally, serendipitously were passing very close to each other. only a minor course correction — negotiated over twitter DM — and we landed in Cambridge, MA, at the same organic cafe, on the same afternoon.
a generation ago, ten years ago, hell, probably even five years ago, we would have just been one long string of missed connections. yeah, that person i heard about a while ago. no, dunno what they're up to now. but in 2013, we connected. frequently it's difficult to explain to people on the outside what you get from twitter. when you tell them that it connects you with people you care about, their faces usually scrunch up with skepticism. but the internet isn't just a TCP/IP connection, a handshake of packets and bits…it's also a satisfying human handshake, the kind where the webbing of your thumb presses tight and for a few seconds, subliminally, you feel the other person's pulse and another flesh and blood creature becomes part of your life experience.
regardless, i'd be lying if i didn't point out the touch of surreality around an otherwise lovely afternoon that led to wonderful conversation. Diana was the third of my twitter friends that i'd met in the course of the weekend (hi Arika and Heather!). when people i knew from words and pictures kept materializing in front of me, i got the unnerving sense that Some Magic was going on. the fabric of reality seemed to have a little pinhole in it, and i was standing on its frayed edge.
in normal circumstances, i'm convinced of the firm reality of the world…to bend and break Decartes, cogito ergo sunt — "i think, therefore they are." i experience the world, and therefore it's either objectively real or i'm inventing the whole thing as i go, and i feel that the latter is a bit beyond my skills. but words are so close to thoughts, and despite the internet's connective power, it tends to reduce to words. if i were uncareful about how i strung those facts together, i could fool myself into thinking that i was conjuring people out of nothing.
but the only magic that really happened this weekend is that the world got smaller. or, perhaps not smaller — since everyone involved had traveled distances more or less great to arrive in Boston — but denser. i've said before: the internet is like living in a big city. it pushes and pulls people together and lets us create and share and laugh and talk and become friends. it's possible.