Having now fully recovered from PodCamp Pittsburgh 4 (including two additional days of travel), I can finally sum up the entire experience in one word: necessary.
If you’re like me, you spend more time online every day than you’d like to admit (or than your significant other thinks is sane). You create media, you consume media, you share media and you form tenuous “relationships” with people you’ve never met. You develop a cabal of fellow Twitter users or Facebook friends, and you spend your weeks commenting on one another’s lives, actions and opinions, leading yourselves to believe that you’ve formed some kind of meaningful bond in the process.
And then, when you close your laptop, you return to your own four-walled reality without any tangible proof that anything you’ve done made a damn bit of difference to anyone. Including you.
If Only These People EXISTED Outside of This Magic Electric Box!
What live events like PodCamp — or like this week’s BlogWorld Expo — allow us to do is transfer those intangible relationships we’ve developed online into the physical forms of friendship that we’ve come to expect and understand from our pre-web days. Suddenly emoticons are replaced with actual smiles and sneers, body language and inflection supply the missing context from our tweets, and human beings prove themselves to be more than a collection of blog posts and Flickr tags.
We realize we are talking to human beings every day, and that we’re not getting the whole story online. People we disagreed with turn out to be more like us than we thought, and people we look up to are revealed to have the same flaws and idiosyncracies that remind us all that we’re human.
It’s deceptively easy to think you know someone online. And it’s even more tempting to think you can form an accurate opinion about them based on your electronic interactions. For example, I didn’t know Steve Klabnick or Eric Williams very well “in real life” before PodCamp Pittsburgh 4, which sometimes made it difficult to keep a level head when we’d be debating politics, theology or intellectual property on Twitter. When all you know of someone is his avatar, it’s impossible to understand who he is and why he might believe what he says. And it’s this type of snap judgment in a world of decreasing focus that leads us to believe we know people better than we do.
And then suddenly, when you’re face to face with someone at a live event, it hits you: we really are all in this together, and our differences are mostly a matter of opinion. At the end of the day, we’re all just a long walk and a 649 shot away from seeing eye-to-eye — or at least from agreeing to disagree.
Because there’s more to life than snap judgments and ironclad theories. There’s the timeless value of sharing a room with people who all have at least one thing in common, and then discovering the depth and degree of the differences. Which is why the electricity of a live event beats the online equivalent every day of the week.