I've noticed that I follow strange unwritten protocols when I'm dealing with friends or acquaintances that I relate to almost exclusively online. I think it's because, without regular face-to-face contact, and without a business relationship or other situational clue to behavior, I'm uncertain as to the nature and depth of these relationships. I don't know what the appropriate level of contact is.
With my blogging and Twitter friends, there are four categories of people. There are those whom I am friends with outside of the online realm, and see on a regular or semi-regular basis. I don't feel the same type of uncertainty at all with this group of people--mostly writers I went to grad school with or other friends who happen to be blogging.
The second category consists of people I haven't met in person--or have only met a couple of times--but with whom I share something in common. Generally these are the people I work with from the Kidlitosphere, whose blogs I read and who take part in many of the same online activities as I do. I am fairly clear on the nature of my relationship with this group of people, too--we have a common interest, we relate on that level and possibly exchange the occasional personal pleasantry if it's someone I know a bit better.
Then there are the people I don't know very well at all--let's call them acquaintances, because that's what they are. I might occasionally post a blog comment or a Twitter reply, but generally, it's a non-real-time, sporadic sort of relationship. No questions there, either.
It's the fourth category that causes me to agonize over every Tweet-reply sent, over every blog comment and unsolicited e-mail: the people I would like to consider in the category of friends but whom I only actually know online and as such only really know a certain side of. If I Tweet in reply or comment on blogs, I always wonder if I'm overstepping some unwritten boundary--for instance, what if I'm in their Category Three and freaking them out because they're wondering why a mere acquaintance is suddenly glomming on? What if it's presumptuous of me to send more than, say, one direct Twitter reply per day? Is it uncouth to send such people an actual e-mail?
And the anxious self-questioning gets even more unrelenting if I send an e-mail or a Twitter reply and, for whatever reason, nothing gets sent to me in return. Not that every e-mail or Tweet requires a reply--far from it; I sure don't need comments every time I post what I'm eating for breakfast--but where does the endless-reply-loop politely stop? Eventually someone has to decide that an exchange consisting of original Tweet-->reply Tweet-->thank-you Tweet-->you're welcome Tweet-->Smiley face Tweet must come to an end. Nobody wants to be stuck in a loop of inane pleasantries.
WHERE DOES IT ALL END? These are the things that I think about when I'm supposed to be working.