My chatroom friend, Jerry James Stone (@JerryJamesStone) who I knew online for months before I met up with him in SanFran.

All day, most days, I work alone. I’m not breaking any stereotypes when I reveal I’m a blogger who spends half my day in pajamas, hair up, sipping green tea as I clickety-clack away on my trusty Macbook with a cat in my lap. I think it’s the best work I can think of, yet often my friends who work in more conventional settings marvel when I tell them I work from home, without any human contact (Terrell, my chatty yoga-loving postman, is sometimes my only real-world conversation partner for several days at a stretch). Yet I don’t feel alone.

Inside my mind, I feel as if I work with a coterie of some the most intelligent, forward-thinking, passionate and creative people I have ever (not) met. Because all day, most days, I’m exchanging information, opinion, frustrations (mostly professional, but sometimes personal), gossip, and ideas with people who do what I do. They are based in Florida, London, New York City, Maine, Colorado, San Francisco, South Africa, India, Los Angeles, and places in between. They have families, they are single; they live in tipis, off-grid, in City centers, suburbs, exurbs and even a yurt atop a lava field (OK, that’s me as I take writing sojourn in Hawaii).

And while it’s always interesting hearing about the weather, or local politics where they live, mostly it doesn’t matter. When I indulge in my favorite addiction (after coffee), travel, I’m always rooted by this dynamic group of colleagues online. We don’t work at the same company, and most of them I haven’t met. Yet I know this crew in enough depth that I cannot categorize them as anything less than friends.

And it so happens that because I get around the world, I have had a chance, over the years, to meet up with some of these amazing folks, and it’s been a consistently similar experience every time. A bit of a shock at first (nobody is ever the way you picture them, even if you’ve scrolled through 100 snapshots of them on Facebook), and then the comfort and sublimity that comes with being in the presence of a person who you really, genuinely like. Because you’re already friends. After marvelling at an unexpected accent, or surprising height (why are all my blogger friends so tall?) the conversation becomes one between intimates, friends. I’ve even felt comfortable enough to eat from their plates, (admittedly, a terrible habit but indicative of my ease).

So it’s always a bit frustrating to me to read about how the virtual world is pulling us apart, separating us from each other, or otherwise destroying the fabric of humanity bit by byte.

I don’t buy it. Because people have been making and keeping, or ignoring, and destroying friendships, family relationships and romances in various and sundry spectacular and terribly ordinary ways since the beginning of time. Just because we have new tools to do it with to doesn’t mean it’s happening more often, just that we now have options (breaking up via text, email, voicemail, letter or in person- any way you go it sucks, no?).

The upshot is that this means there are new ways to make friends too, and keep them, fresh venues in which to telegraph your love to your beloved, or your lust to your lover. Virtual palazzos to air your frustrations, your opinions, and to share your voice, even if your face is an avatar, and not your skin and bones mug.

The future involves us all working, playing (cavorting? there’s a fun thought), creating, communicating through devices and in virtual spaces. So what if they’re not ‘real’? As we know, reality is just a construct (more on this in an upcoming post), and so is the online world. What makes one more or less ‘real’ than the other? There are people, communities, and cultures in each space, art, sublime and ridiculous, conflict, collaboration, love and hate. And a lot of words. Sound familiar?

Additional communication spaces simply provide additional ways to be human, but does not mean the eradication of our humanness. If anything, it’s an expansion, because now we have more places in which to be who we are, to expand beyond our physical constraints and be a more fully expressive version of ourselves. And we get to meet people we otherwise never would have met. And what is aliveness about if not reaching our hand across a pathway, or a chatroom, and saying “Nice to meet you?” (Well, perhaps the latter is more like a smiley emoticon and a “Hey, what’s up?”)

Oh, and I just realized in writing this, that I must amend the title of this post. While some of my best friendships are virtual, the friends are real.