I started thinking about this when Ymar and I got into a bit of a tiff. He made some incorrect assumptions about me that were irritating. After going back and forth a few times, it occurred to me that there's no particular reason his assumptions about me should have been right: We don't really know each other.
It isn't just that we've never met. Most of us post anonymously here because we don't want to be known. At the least, there is some group of people, co-workers or family or potential future employers, that we don't want to know our thoughts.
I don't know about anyone else here, but in addition to using a pseudonym, I also do a few things when I write or comment that I hope help to obscure my analog identity. For example, there are subjects I don't comment about because I'm known in professional circles for expertise in them. I avoid using examples from my life or talking about jobs I've had. I also don't post photos of named places geographically close to where I live.
So, it only makes sense that we don't know each other because we don't want to be known by random strangers, or by people who may be looking into our analog lives. And yet, I think we do want the regulars here to know us, and we want to know them. We may even think we do know them. Many of us have been commenting here for 10 or 15 years. I consider all of the regulars here friends, although it's a strange sort of friendship.
I also believe that this has contributed to some of the intractable disagreements we've had over the years. In analog life, I would probably know a lot more about a friend, where they grew up, what work they'd done, something about their family, etc., before I got into serious political or philosophical discussions with them. Knowing things like these doesn't often change what I say to friends, but it does change the way I say them. And, of course, the whole dimension of non-verbal communication is cut out.
There have been some significant disagreements in the comments over the years, and at those times I have regretted that we weren't at the pub or in the park hashing them out where we could more easily make ourselves understood, and where we could have a good idea of where things stood between us when the discussion was over. There have been some arguments, especially I think with Cass and Tex, where, at the end, we all just abandoned the thread, and I wondered if I had offended someone.
Analog discussions provide immediate feedback that can quickly be used to adjust our expectations for what comes next. If I unwittingly say something that's going to cause trouble, there's usually a facial reaction that warns me we might have a disagreement or misunderstanding. Then I can act accordingly, maybe explaining more or quickly analyzing what I said to look for problems, and I will know to take my interlocutor's next comment with the understanding that we may have a problem. Not so in blog comments, when I may unknowingly post something that's going to cause trouble and not have any warning of that fact until reading the reply. Blog discussions leave so much out that we normally depend on.
In the last few years I've tried to adjust the way I comment to account for these things, but especially when I'm tired, I still forget and comment as if everyone here knew me and I knew them.
I have often wished we could have a Hall gathering somewhere, a day or a weekend of getting to know each other. Unlikely, given the distances I think lie between us and the problem of coordinating our varying schedules. We can't even seem to schedule a book-club-style discussion. But maybe not impossible.