Traveling Dog Lady: virtual strangers

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

virtual strangers

I find myself a part of a cultural phenomenon. It doesn't surprise me that I'm so "mainstream" -- I've always been into pop-culture. Check my 36-year addiction to the ABC soap All My Children, my obsession with the band Bon Jovi, and a slathering of other mainstream, pop icons and fads that I've gotten sucked into over this lifetime. (As I'm writing this, Gil yells upstairs to me to turn on Larry King Live because CNN is re-running Larry's recent interview with none other than the gorgeous, talented, mega-talented, oh, did I say gorgeous, Jon Bon Jovi!).

But the phenomenon I am writing about today is that of virtual relationships. I belong to several "groups" on the internet. A couple of dog-behavior groups, and a couple of fibromyalgia groups. The people on these groups, including me, go out of their way to help the other members of the group. Now, we group members, except for a select few, have never met by telephone, we've certainly never met in person.

We are virtual strangers.

All of this communicating is being done on the keyboard. Everybody out-doing each other, or trying to, in writing, advice-giving, spelling and humor. I cannot count the number of times I've presented to one of these groups with a problem, and someone from a different state... shit sometimes from foreign countries... will reach out with answers, suggestions, compassion and humor. Most times this advice is bandied about on the group itself, for "public" consumption, as long as you're a member of the group. But other times -- and this is the part that is most incredible -- other times people will email me privately. Virtual strangers, reaching out to little ol' me, spending their time thinking about my problem and writing to me about it.

Just this weekend, I received lengthy emails from at least four group members offering me advice, educating me, and assisting me with my various "issues". One guy helped me with some photos I was having trouble posting to And two other ladies gave me some invaluable knowledge about more personal matters.

These groups are the support groups that I attended 20 years ago in person, only better. From the comfort and privacy of your own home, you are invited to attend the support group meeting. You can do it 24/7, and communicate with like-minded individuals from all over the world. The concept is mind-blowing, and it's taken off like a rocket. Two of the groups I belong to have over 2,000 members apiece.

And, just as with interpersonal relationships of any kind, whether it be family, friends, co-workers, the same dynamics come into play. People get offended and get into arguments. The moderator has to step in and put an end to it. Sometimes, people get so offended, they quit the group (I left one dog group for 2 months this fall, and have just recently returned. I used to do that frequently with the for-real groups back in the 80s! The more things change...) Sometimes, everybody works it out and things end up being rather humorous. Some of the groups have extremely strict rules, and some are all about fun, fun, fun.

Oh, and did you know that I'm Time Magazine's Person of the Year?