Real Virtuality

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These are my friends. We talk daily. We laugh. I make fun of my job and they understand. We spend forty hours a week together, albeit off and on. The only other person I spend that much time with is my fiancé – and we’re usually sleeping.

These are my friends. My professional friends, anyway.

Amazingly enough, they get the best part of me. The most awake part. Usually the most dedicated part. Sometimes the most focused part. They definitely get daily emails, weekly calls, and occasional information about my personal life. They ask how my trips were and what I did over the weekend. They know more about my day to day than the people who know my soul.

But here’s the funny thing. They don’t even know what I look like.

I work on the 6th floor of a 15-floor building packed with thousands of employees. And we’re not the only office. We have locations in Washington State, New York, and Texas. And I have partners in Los Angeles and Washington, DC and Atlanta. All in all, we’re a company of 300,000 people plus an infinity of partners, of which I probably know less than a percent of a percent. But the very few people in the percent of a percent – sometimes I feel like I know them pretty well.

But here’s the funny thing. I don’t know what they look like.

I’m in a whirlwind tour meeting them. I’ve been working with them for over eight months, all virtually. All over the phone, over conference calls, over email. I’ve gotten dressed up just about every day, worried about what I was wearing, and then laughed at myself on the way home – no one who knows anything about what I do actually even saw me that day. Yes, I go to an office. But that office could just as easily be in Timbucktu and no one would no the difference.

So the weird part is meeting them. I’ve developed characters, profiles, personalities to match their voices and their demeanors and appearances to go along with them. Some are tall, dashing. Others are short, stout, funny. Some are humble, meek, shy, sweet; others confident, maybe even brash. For each personality I have what I imagine them to look like, what age I imagine them to be, what fashion style I think they adorn. And for each personality I have met, I have been dead wrong.

Which gets me thinking. I scoff at the virtual worlds. The Second Life’s. The Whyvilles. Even DivineCaroline is a world of anonymity if you want it to be one. I think some of them are kind of silly, kind of pointless. Why would I give up time in my real life to participate in a virtual one?

And then I realize. My real life is virtual. There are these people I know, but I’ve never met. There are souls I understand, but faces I wouldn’t recognize. There are laughs that I warm to, but seem to come from strangers when I’m standing right next to them. My real life, at least my real work life, is anything but real.


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