Digital tools may create life long relationships

February 26, 2024 in Personal

This post isn’t about user experiences or digital products per se, but I think it is highly relevant to the work that we do on a daily basis. You know the feeling… you read or watched something that has lingered in your mind. It can stay there for days or even weeks afterwards. I recently read Manuel Morale’s Digital Relations and it keeps coming back to me.

If you’re like me, you probably met and interacted with more people in the digital world than in real life. And I’m not saying this because I’m an introvert, I don’t think I am. I’m saying this simply because it’s the result of the life I live.
On digital relations

While I do think I’m an introvert, I can relate to the notion of having met and interacted with more people in the digital world than in real life. This is made even more clear to me as I live with someone who doesn’t have any digital relations at all! Anna has asked me how I know someone countless times - even people coming to visit us - and I’ve had to admit that I know them through Twitter. While it feels natural for me, I can fully understand how strange it might seem to her.

But the fact remains that some of the people I’m closest to I met in the digital “world” and I would never known them without tools for online communication. It’s easy to think of places like Twitter (I refuse to call it X) as a right-wing, hateful, misogynist platform (it absolutely can be), but it’s also worth highlighting the other side of it - the digital relationships tools like Twitter have allowed us to form.

The relationships that formed

My family got a PC and we connected to the internet very early on. I think we had our first modem in 1995 or 1996. I took those first few years on the internet to practice new skills and I had my first paid web project in 1997. Also during that time, I was playing in hardcore bands and writing a fanzine. I hung out on IRC and connected with people in channels like - that’s straight edge, not a typo! I met back then was Daniel there and while I don’t remember much of our interactions from back then, he became a close friend and nowadays we meet up for lunch every other Friday. Sure, he lives close by and we share the same kind of work, but I don’t think we would hang out today if it wasn’t for those interactions back in the late 90’s.

More or less every blog post on my website and my two books have been edited for clarity by Josh. I’ve never met Josh and we’ve been working together 9+ years by now. We are literally on different sides of the Atlantic Ocean! Just the other day Josh and I had our first zoom call! Can you imagine? After working together for almost a decade, we’d never spoken face-to-face before. Yet, over the years we’ve shared so much together from both going through divorces, he got diabetes (which I have had since child age), and so much more. *note from Josh: I appreciate the entire decade long journey of collaboration and support. To think… it all started with a short email!

I actually met Jessi in real life before our digital relation formed. We started working together in 2017 through SuperFriendly and met in Boston. A couple of years later we worked together again with Herman Miller and met Nicole. While none of us may be working together today (hoping this will change!) we still interact with each other on a weekly basis. We send each other birthday gifts and share the highs and lows of everyday life.

And then there’s Louise and Amanda who I got to work with through ueno on Zabka back in 2020. While I have been lucky to meet both of them in real life now, our relationship formed long before. Going through the highs and lows of an intense project (not to mention the acquisition of ueno and us moving on to join Product) can create bonds that are magical in many ways.

Digital relationships are powerful. Some people discard them because they think they’re not at the same level as “real relationships” but I disagree. Digital relationships are their own thing. They have their own rules, and their own ways to be unique. And they can be as important as any other relationship.
On digital relations

They are the same, but different

I think people are keen on comparing digital relations to physical relations, but I don’t think they are easily comparable. They are the same, but different. In a way, it’s like comparing an apple to an orange. Both are fruit, but depending on the mood and context, one is better than the other for that specific moment. Unlike comparing, let’s say dogs to cats where dogs always will win.

From the early days of IRC chat rooms, to discussion forums, to random blog-related emails, to working collaborations, I've met some wonderful people born out of digital interactions that would otherwise never have happened if not for the web.
Carl Barenbrug

Despite all of the drama that often happens on social networks, I’m so grateful to all of the people I have met through these channels. I could make a muuuuch longer list highlighting all the people I’ve met online and sincerely value as ‘real’ friends, but for now let me just say how much I value you all - readers of this blog, subscribers of my newsletter, people that randomly email me, interactions on social networks, and all the amazing clients. I can’t wait for the next decade getting to know even more fantastic people!

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