#IRL Means In Real Life

Category: Social Media Social Good Series

Beyonce funny photo

Recently I had a couple of experiences that reminded me of the folly of thinking we have a great social life if we have a bunch of Facebook, Twitter, and other online friends. Yes, “virtual friends” can be meaningful, but nothing trumps meeting and knowing people IRL, aka in real life. In Real Life means face to face, sitting near one another, interacting in real time, and otherwise being a human being. Yes, it’s alien to many of us – especially our kids – but it brings rewards that can’t be calculated by Klout or the number of “likes” or so-called “followers” you might have.

Funny animals

No one would accuse me of being shy or bashful. But, I still can get in the comfortable habit of staying home and enjoying my “virtual” social life. Whenever I venture “out” I get unexpected rewards. First, there’s yet to be a “virtual” friend I’ve met in person who hasn’t been terrific. By the time I meet someone that I’ve known online, I “know” them pretty darn well. It’s a great joy to then expand that knowledge with a face-to-face get together. It never fails to work for me.

Two recent experiences have reinforced the value of real life meeting. One was a small conference I attended and the other was a very small get together at my home where I invited two online friends over for dinner.

Cartoon about social anxiety

The conference – I knew – would be terrific. I got to meet with several people who I “knew” online or “knew of!” Again, not a single disappointment. In some cases, relationships were simply enhanced, in others true relationships were begun. Yes, you can sit on your hands at such events, but I’ve found most people – well known or not – that live and work in Social Media are pretty social and pretty approachable. You just gotta go up to them and say, “Hello.”

My method often involves using my own niche of Social Media – being a dad – as a way to start conversation. The moment I find out the other person has kids, the conversation gets interesting. First, if they’re an “expert” of some kind, they get to speak about something outside their expertise. Second, it’s personal and it immediately breaks down any potential barriers. Two simple tools in such conversations is to look them in the eye and actually listen. In my case, both come easy since I am truly interested in everyone’s personal story when kids and/or marriage/divorce are involved.

Funny situation photo

With men, this is often outside their normal comfort zone and soon they welcome the opportunity to talk about something other than tech stuff or their particular knowledge base. Because, as parents, we all know nothing — really. It’s learning on the run and we ALL can learn from one another.

The other recent IRL experience involved two “virtual” friends coming over for dinner. I will use pseudonyms not because anything embarrassing occurred but simply because I haven’t asked permission to use their real names and I respect them too much to take any chance on offending them.

Bathroom humor

One of the two women – we’ll call her Jackie – was someone I’d met before. We had long ago become friends, worked together, so her presence was simply having a friend over and enjoying each other’s company. However, Jackie shared the story of our first meeting and how awkward and nervous she felt about meeting a “stranger.” Further, she reminded me that for a woman there’s more inherent fear and risk. Her husband was assuring her that I was probably okay, but she did have trepidation before that first encounter. Not so after about 10 seconds when non-stop conversation began and continued for hours!

The second “friend” – we’ll call her Karen – had never met me before OR spoken with me on the phone. She’d attended #DadChat but “knew” me only as that disembodied twitter voice on it. When Karen entered my house, it was like a deer entering a lion’s den – her body language carried all sorts of anxiety. I quickly tried to ease her nervousness by introducing her to Jackie and my wife.

Parents having sex cartoon

Karen drove over 90 minutes to come to my house. Her kids had pushed her to “get out” because she’d gotten way too used to being a homebody. It took a little coaxing, but by evening’s end Karen was laughing, drinking (lots of drinking – just kidding), and she was clearly totally relaxed.

When my wife and me walked both Jackie and Karen to the door, there was no doubt that one “real” friendship had begun while another was simply deepened.

Funny awkward photo

The lesson? Get out. Go to that event that you’re nervous about attending. Take a shot and walk up to someone you’ve admired from afar and say, “Hello” – – what’s the worst thing that can happen? There is no “worst thing” because whatever happens it will be a learning and growing experience.

How about skipping that $5 Starbucks latte and splurging $2.99 (for the Kindle on Amazon) or $2.79 for the PDF of my new e-book? Enjoy my own informercial for it! This e-book is really a virtual journey. It’s filled with 100 photos, 7 original videos, and links to many of the stops on the trip. Click on the book cover image below to find your purchase options: 

Book Cover from The Empty Nest

  • Jodi Okun

    I am Jackie in this story – IRL Jodi Okun – meeting Bruce for the first time – I had been on social media for six months and when I went to his home and rang the door bell – it was like meeting family. The first time we met – I went with him to pick his son up at school. I might his wife and older son too – Bruce is right when we start talking about our kids we realize as parents are in this together.

    #Dadchat is a great place Bruce makes everyone feel welcome at his twitter chat and always get you talking – to each other – to him to his host.

    Bringing our friendship off line creates bonds for a life time – and I am grateful

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thanks @jodiokun:disqus for “coming out” so to speak! I am equally grateful – but we both took that leap and that is the point of this column!

      • jodiokun

        and you did a great job – telling a true IRL story thank you Bruce

        • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

          @jodiokun:disqus – you can’t make this stuff up! lol…

  • David Weber

    In the 1990s I was an avid — I don’t want to sound dramatic, but the truth is I was an ADDICTED — habitue of chat rooms. I don’t know if chat rooms are even done any more, but back in the day, 15-20 yr. ago, chat rooms were as close as it got to what is now called social media.

    I hung out in a variety of chat rooms…probably about a half-dozen regular ones. A couple were specifically political chat rooms. Another one or two were chat rooms focusing on a specific interest, e.g., travel chat rooms, movie chat rooms.

    The other two or three were what I guess could be called amorous chat rooms. I remember the name of one: “40s Chat.” It was basically a chat room for people in their 40s (which I was at the time) to just congregate and chat about whatever topic came up, naughty or nice. But the topics were 95% “naughty” and 5% “nice.”

    The other one I remember by name was “Married But Flirting”…that says it all, right there! Not everyone was married — for example, I was single — but everyone was “flirting.” If a topic that was not amorous came up, it quickly died.

    I was not devoted to any one or another of the interest-based chat rooms…I would periodically enter one a number of times over a period of weeks, and then on other occasions look for or stumble onto a room revolving around a different interest.

    But the political chat rooms and the “flirtation” rooms, I was on them all the time … the political chat rooms in part because I met someone in one with whom I developed an amorous connection. I did enjoy the political chatting as such, however; I liked arguing and counterarguing with people in the rooms. Once I logged into a political room using my regular “handle” and then experimented: I stayed in the room and logged in as a fictitious other person, with a different handle. Using that handle, I got into a robust “debate” with my other handle … that is, from the point of view of everyone in the chatroom, I was having an heated argument with this newbie…but no one realized that the “newbie” was also me. This was intense and in its own way fun, but ultimately very weird. By the end of the fifteen- or twenty-minute “debate,” in which I was insulting myself out of both sides of my mouth, I had developed a headache.

    Will post this and then post the end of the story.

  • David Weber

    So this is Part II, to accompany my post of a minute ago that starts “In the 1990s, I was an avid habitue of chat rooms.”

    I think, though, that probably about 60-65% of my time in chat rooms was spent in flirtation rooms. For a variety of good reasons (i.e., none of them involving being unemployed or fired!), it so happened that as of early- or mid-autumn 1997, I had a great deal of unstructured time on my hands daily. For the next 6-8 wk. — initially as a newbie who scarcely knew what chat was, and ultimately as someone who some days spent upwards of 16-18 hr. a day in chat — I became immersed in chat. It ultimately approached being as real to me as “real life” was.

    In the world of the flirtation rooms, I fell in love, fell out of love, cheated and was cheated on. Some astounding experiences occurred during those months. I met F2F probably 20, maybe more, of the people I chatted with in the flirtation rooms, not to mention the woman I first met in the political chat room, and with whom I did develop a very pleasant and affectionate relationship.

    In those days, you dialed up a connection to the internet. My phone was NEVER available to anyone calling me. I had three very good friends in that period of time and they one day rapped on my door, demanding entry, to do an intervention with me. Really, that’s what it was.

    In late November, I left the country for almost three months, for professional reasons. While I was gone, I didn’t chat (it was $6.00 a MINUTE to connect to the internet from Bandung, Indonesia, where I was staying!) but with a couple of the people I had met in chatI did stay in touch by email–a message could be written offline and sent in less than a minute…still, each such message cost $6.00 to send, so I didn’t send many!

    When I returned in early February 1998, I got back into chat, although not with precisely the same level of intensity as before my trip. Nonetheless, there were, after my three-month hiatus, new people to fall in love with, fall out of love with, cheat on and be cheated on by — not to mention chat room visitors I recognized from before my trip but had not yet communicated with one-to-one — as well as more people to meet F2F … “newbies” in the flirtation chat room as well as those I had known but not actually shaken hands with, if you will, IRL.

    All of this petered out by mid-1998, when I had to get moving with a variety of projects. I think the last time I was in a chat room was 1999.

    The addictive and all-consuming nature of my involvement with chat going on two decades ago is to a certain extent why I hesitate to get involved in social media…it was, when I was doing it, fascinating, compelling, irresistable, horrifying and more…and in retrospect, it was at the very least a direct experience in how the concept of “in real life” can get complicated when cyberspace and “meatspace” converge.

  • David W.

    Very good column. There are so many overlaps/similarities between IRL human relationships and relationships in SoMe/cyber environments, and so many uniquenesses or distinctive elements in each. Good reflections and illustrations.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thx @disqus_dU5ulU60s7:disqus – all communication seems to be undergoing extreme and rapid changes!