Saturday, November 01, 2008

A sense of commmunity

I'm a private person, always have been.

I grew up in a small town where everyone knew you. I couldn't wait to leave, to live somewhere where I would have a little anonymity, where I wouldn't feel everyone knew everything about my life. I can still feel the panic attacks that I felt after my first really serious boyfriend had chucked me very unexpectedly, knowing that everyone I met on the street would ask after him and had been expecting us to get married.

I moved to London where the community bonds are less strong. That doesn't mean you don't get on with your neighbours, we do. I can honestly say that after 20 years in this house and several changes of neighbours, we have never had a fall-out. But like most Londoners, our relationship with them is very arm's length.

The benefit of this, of course, is that you can choose the friends you share the real details of your life with. I have two main special groups of friends...some that I met at mother and baby groups with son 1 and some I have met through the local special needs support groups, which I attend and have helped run for many years. Both these groups of friends are highly trusted and play a very important role in my life.

Internet groups add an extra dimension. I visit a number of open and closed forums and groups for writing, special needs and at the OU. But to me there is a downside. Some of the groups are huge...some of the OU ones are potentially open to every single OU student, one of the special needs groups is nearly 3,500 people hidden behind usernames. You don't know who is reading, any more than I know who is reading here. So I am very cautious about what I post in such places, just as I am here. What you might read is just a tiny snapshot of my life. I rarely write about anything which is currently raw. I think hard about who else might be affected by my words. I know some people think as a result that I am aloof, that they don't know me. But for me it is just basic internet safety, a protection for those rare occasions when things go wrong in a community. Lets face it, that happens on all forums from time to time, nowhere is entirely safe.

But what has also struck me recently is how quickly an internet group can change. Writing groups dry up after the loss of a few active key members. OU forums can completely change in nature as one cohort of students starts to move on and another moves in. The social groups that are formed online are flimsy, to say the least.

Regular readers will know that I have met in real life people from a number of my internet groups, many of them writers, and they have been, without exception, lovely people. Today I'm going to meet some of my online tutor group for the writing course. I don't know what to expect, but I'm sure they will all be nice too (and if they aren't we only have to meet one more time!) I'm equally sure though, that I probably won't still be in touch with many or any in a year from now.

For real life support on some of the things that really matter most in life, such as my family, I will stick with my flesh and blood friends here. I know who I can trust with confidences, who is likely to be able to advise in a particular situation, who could help out in an emergency, even to care for son 2.

I know how lucky I am to have them.


Jenny Beattie said...

I hope you enjoy meeting your tutor group today. I know it was lovely to meet you at the NR meet. It's nice to put a real face to a name.

Casdok said...

I think it is very wise to have some basic internet safety.
Hope you have a lovely meet today.

Cathy said...

Thanks JJ and Casdok. I've just discovered my tube line isn't running today :( so will have to set off early to get bus and overground train!

Jen said...

Good post... I was terrified at the NR meet but overwhelmed by how lovely everyone was. I am, however, quite aware that this may be the exception to the rule.

I can barely remember who was in my tutor group on the last writing course - except for one chap I sat next to all day who was too scared to speak to me or anyone else.

I wandered along towards the train station afterwards, smiling at his funny duffel coat and wondering why he was so quiet. We've been living together for over 2 years now :0) (The duffel coat had to go though!)

Hope your tutorial goes marvelously, despite the lack of tube.

Cathy said...

Aw how romantic! I knew you both did the course but didn't realise you met there. :)

Sue Guiney said...

This is a lovely, sensitive and sensible post, Cathy. Hope today goes well. xo

HelenMWalters said...

Gosh that was a romantic sharing from Spiral! And Cathy, you are a lovely person to meet in blogland and in real life x

Lane Mathias said...

Hope you had a good meet(and didn't get too wet).

(and aw to Spiral's story:-)