Internet Friends

One of the stranger aspects of my life, when I reflect on it, is the fact that I have long had a propensity to form friendships on the internet with complete strangers. I blame this partly on the fact that I was introduced to the phenomenon of international pen pals when I was in grade school in the 1970s. Yes, we would actually write letters with pen and paper and send them in envelopes with stamps! One of my favourite pen pals was a girl from Liechtenstein who shared my love of ABBA, when no one seemed to like the group where I lived. This was followed by a brief foray into CB radio. Later, I got into amateur ("ham") radio in high school, where I quickly learned how to chat to people all over North America in morse code.

But things really took off in the mid '80s when I got my first Macintosh--with a modem. I signed up for CompuServe, and quickly accrued monthly bills in the hundreds of dollars chatting to complete strangers. I did this (more cheaply) for the next ten years on various forums and even AOL when it was originally available to Mac users only. In early 1995 I started using CuSeeMe, a video chat service that allowed you to watch slow moving black and white videos of other people while chatting in a text window. Normally we would congregate in groups of 8-10 people in a "room" or a "reflector". Having fast, reliable bandwidth was expensive at the time, so nearly all CuSeeMe interactions were done on my university computer with other people who were also at universities or in special laboratories (e.g., JPL). After getting to know many regulars over the next few months, I ended up going to a few CuSeeMe parties/get togethers, and even hosted a big party of my own in Los Angeles (Seal, the singer, used to chat with us and was supposed to come, but bailed at the last minute). I still have two friendships ongoing from that era, both who were department staff in Earth Sciences at Monash University. In fact, just this past New Year's Eve, one of those friends invited us up to her weekend home in Noosa for a beachtime celebration with her family. I will have known her 20 years in 2015--all from just chatting with her on CuSeeMe years ago.

These internet conversations and friendships have continued to this day. I have a couple of Facebook "friends" I met through blogging or playing online games a few years ago. I still occasionally meet new friends on various interest sites. Some experiences turn out weird, but others can end up inspiring me to try new things, like a good book or travelling to a new place. Most of these conversations usually end after a couple of weeks. A few have never finished. 

Strange, hey?