‘Not all those who wander are lost.’

– J.R.R. Tolkien1

I often get tweets from people whom I’ve met on Twitter who are passing through town asking if I’m interested in meeting for a coffee. I nearly always say yes as it’s often a wonderful opportunity to get to know the real person behind a familiar online presence.

It can be both exciting and sometimes disappointing. I often joke that people look taller than they do in their social media pictures. What I really mean is that they look nothing like their social media picture!

This is the reaction you can expect to get from people if you choose to use some other online form of identity than your own. If you don’t have a real name or real picture, then you have to introduce yourself to people by some ridiculous Twitter handle. I have people come up to me all the time and say I’m so and so on Twitter, a handle I immediately recognize from our many exchanges, but I’m left with a strangely disconnected feeling like I really don’t know this person at all. Inevitably I forget their real name almost at once, while I continue to have to call them by their Twitter handle throughout the rest of our meetup. It’s awkward, to say the least.

It’s through these real-life encounters with people I’ve met online that I can truly sense the gap between the perceived intimacy of social media and the offline realities. Some argue that social media has lessened the social ties between communities, replacing them with an online substitute ...

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