I've been thinking about this in a number of contexts over the last week. As I've moved away from an institutional job, my online life increasingly *is* my life. I work with people all over the country and meet with them via skype, in second life, or just back and forth via a Google doc. The people I interact with online are mostly people I've met in real life at conferences or other events. They are people I turn to for ideas, advice, and support. In my physical space, I haven't yet found the rich support network I have online. I do have friends and former colleagues that I meet up with periodically (some of whom are also part of my online network), but it's harder to find these people; there are fewer opportunities to "meet" in physical space. I'm working on finding and/or creating these opportunities, but it's a slow process.
The reality and to some extent, the physicality, of online life hit home for us this week. Geeky Boy suspected that one of his online friends, someone he'd been gaming with for over 4 years, was about to commit suicide. He reported this to Mr. Geeky, who began trying to track down the kid. All we had to go on was a name and a state. Ideally, he might have contacted the parents, but he couldn't, so he ended up calling the police. Meanwhile, GB was texting his friend and getting no response, which naturally had him worried. The police took the whole thing seriously and did indeed track down GB's friend, almost simultaneously with the friend finally contacting GB. We're glad that GB didn't brush off the incident as some random kid he knew online and took the situation as seriously as he would for a friend he knew in person. The whole situation is an indication, perhaps, that many kids will form lasting and real friendships online. I have hope that the building of these relationships will make the online world more hospitable as people eliminate the distinction between relationships that are "real" and those that are online.