The friends I have coffee with every Saturday morning have made it all too clear to me that they don't think much of this blogging caper. The general attitude is 'Why would you want to sit staring at the computer for hours and hours when you could be spending time with real people?'
I'm not sure how much time with 'real people' they want me to spend. For a start, the amount of time I spend actually hanging out with people has not lessened since I took up blogging -- every Saturday morning with them for a start, and a precious, long-established ritual it is and long may it continue. (M, we will find a place with better pancakes, I promise.)
I still spend the many, many hours on the phone that I have always done, and stay in regular email contact with local, interstate and overseas friends (three Gemini planets, what are you gonna do) though for the Saturday girls this probably doesn't count as 'real' either. I saw both my sisters yesterday afternoon to arrange my father's birthday present -- he turns 80 today -- and will be seeing them again tonight at his birthday dinner. Etc.
I once did that Myers-Briggs personality test thingy and got a perfect 50/50 score on the extrovert/introvert section. Their criterion for deciding which you are, and this rings very true with me, is whether spending time with other people gives you energy or takes energy away. In my experience it depends very much on the people, but in a general way, for me, socialising starts out energising, and if the company consists of beloveds and intimates then it just goes on being that way.
But if it's a big general social thing and it goes on for long enough, there comes a tipping point, a turning of the energy tide, where instead of feeling enlivened by the company I begin quite abruptly to be desperate to be gone. The only thing that stops me fleeing into the night screaming and gibbering is that I don't actually have the energy to get up out of the chair.
Which is where partying en blog is perfect for the borderline introvert. If one is endlessly interested and curious about other people's lives but also needs to spend substantial amounts of time alone in order to recharge and regroup, blogging satisfies all one's nosiness needs without needing to be scheduled for, or in any way endured. You can stop and start whenever you like.
And the other thing is that your perception of the 'realness' of people undergoes a major shift. It may be that I and all other lovers of literature have a head start here. If you've spent your life reading novels and living through the characters' dramas with them, it's only a very small shift to thinking of your bloggy mates, whom you've also only ever encountered through reading, as very real indeed. This is of course is further helped along by photos: of their kids, their cats, their fridges and rugs, the things they've seen and made.
Of course there's lots of really interesting theoretical and intellectual stuff that gets said about blogging, including all the debate about whether it is or is not the New Journalism, though I have pretty much concluded that it isn't. There are all my own still half-formed but actually a bit radical ideas about the practices of reading and writing and how blogging changes the way we do them. There are the special-interest blogs, which in terms of intellectual and/or aesthetic quality -- Pharyngula, The Rest is Noise, Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog -- tend to be the best of all.
And there is the political and philosophical and public-life discussion in all its ubiquity, though about 90% of it is dross; for good analysis one goes straight to the people one has learned to trust, usually still in the quality-controlled MSM or the even more quality-controlled library, rather than to interminable comments threads full of frothing, barking, semi-literate raves. (I exempt LP, where the majority of regulars can think and spell, but I still read the comments there more for the personalities than the content.)
For there is an awful lot of undirected aggression and hostility out there, to say nothing of raving lunacy, and the dread of being flamed whenever one happens to mention some word or discuss some subject -- feminism, Freud, abortion, cats, Amanda Vanstone -- that pushes some nutter's buttons is the single biggest thing that might eventually drive me out of blogging.
(This is where 'real' life has it all over blogging, actually. In a room or in the street, all but the most barking of moon units will usually see fit to maintain the ordinary practices of civil discourse and behaviour with strangers. Would that it were true in the blogosphere.)
But for all that, the main thing that brings me to the keyboard every morning is curiosity and concern about how everybody's going. There's a mere handful of people whose blogs I check regularly that I have actually met -- Elsewhere, Whitebait, Cristy, ThirdCat, Stephanie -- but my attention to the people I 'know' only online is of the same quality, and when there are crises or dramas or adventures in their lives I check in very much as I would with my oldest friend to see how everything's panning out.
So the crazy-brave Lymphopo, formerly Grannyvibe, is having her post-chemo scans today, to see whether the cancer has spread or has been halted. Poor Chris Clarke at Creek Running North (danger, Will Robinson, do not follow this link without a hanky) is spending the last days with his beloved old dog Zeke, who is very much not long for this world.
At the other end of life, Zoe and her family are bonding with Jethro, who was born ten days overdue after a bloggy chorus of slow clapping that went on for nearly a week. Chairman Mao the Burmese Cat, whose potential reaction Armagnac'd had good cause to worry about, has taken to the new baby with nary a meou of protest. Laura drops in occasionally to her blog to take a bit of time out from the flurry of cleaning and packing before she moves into her new house.
I've never met any of these people. But they and all my other must-read bloggers are as real to me as anyone I've ever been in a room with. They are, indeed, more real to me than most; I've got to know them through their writing and to care about what happens to them because of their sheer human quality, and the fun of their online company, and the richness of the lives they lead, and the common tastes and values we share.
So it's not a matter of fewer people in one's life; quite the reverse. It's a matter of a whole new dimension to one's life, into which one can pack a whole extra swag of human interest. Pack-rat that I am, with people as with stuff, to me the blogosphere is mainly just a lovely big new cupboard in the kitchen of life.