In the late 1990’s, we bought a new Computer for Christmas. We stayed up late Christmas Eve setting up and configuring the new “toy.” We consider ourselves computer-literate and had owned previous “PC” computers. But until then, they were mostly “working” tools with which we did word processing and spreadsheet applications., and the kids did homework and played games.
Packaged with the new computer was a software disk offering a month of free service from the online subscription service, America Online (AOL). While we were familiar with the “internet,” we had not really used it. Part of the reason was that prior to AOL, the internet was really more for the technical oriented and services like Compuserve, while they supported email and forums, were not as “user-friendly” to the non-technical general public.
AOL, whether you eventually grew to love it or hate it, changed all that. Their user friendly graphical interface, and their “user-community” based approach, coupled with e-mail, it was an immediate success. While we were not the “first,” we were among some of the early users (AOL had actually been around in a DOS – based format for a few years–but it was the new “community” Windows-base version really caught on.
One of the early, successful components of AOL was its easy-to-manipulate “user groups.” I discovered several photography-based groups during these first days of use and joined several – notably a group on Nature Photography and on for Nikon users. At first, it surprised me how much “crossover” there was between groups. It soon became apparent that there were a number of “regulars.” In these first years, I became acquainted with a handful of kindred, photo enthusiasts. Most of us were hobby-photographers with “real life jobs.” There was a handful of professionals.
We dropped our AOL membership a number of years back. But thankfully, I have been able to maintain many of those “friendships” developed over those early years. And in the ensuing years, I have made other acquaintances through electronic-only correspondence over the internet.
My wife and others who are perhaps less naive than me, have at times questioned my willingness to accept at face value, what some of my new “friends” say they are. I remember my wife’s concern about me trekking off to Detroit back in the late 90’s to meet up in the early dawn hours with a group of AOL Nature Photography Board members in a Detroit Metro Park. One of those members, my very good friend, Mark Graf has moved from a serious hobby photographer, to a talented professional. Mark’s site is worth the visit. I have future plans to meet with another good friend I met on the Scenes of Vermont Forum (where I am a moderator on its Vermont Photography Forum and its Foliage Forum). Al Utzig is another talented photographer and a teacher of photography and I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to see his site (Al’s site is one my suggested links here). Next fall, I am hoping to join a group from the site for some foliage photography and camaraderie.
I keep a regular correspondence with a fellow Nature Photography boarder in New Mexico, another in Indiana, and another in North Dakota. I have never personally met them (I hope I someday). Yet I consider them my close friends and are glad to “know” them. Through a couple other forum-based site, I have met new “friends” in Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota and other places around our country. I regularly correspond with 4 different working professional photographers, only 2 of whom I have actually personally met (and then only briefly). Without the internet, what is the likelihood that I would have this kind of an opportunity? Others, like Donna Rosser, a friend from the AOL days, and Mark Alan Meader, (we “follow each others’ Blogs), I perhaps will never meet face to face. But we keep up. I recently heard from another “old friend” from AOL.
We do not all have the same interests. Many of us have very different interests and things in common with some that we don’t have with others. But we ALL have one thing in common – our photography!
Are these folks really friends? In my mind there is no question. In some instances, we may have connected on a deeper level by sharing thoughts – sometimes very personal – sometimes very detailed and intellectual, than we often share with “friends” we see on a regular basis. I am not trying to compare the quality of those friendships. My frequent photography companion and closest friend, Rich and I seldom share what I would call “intimate” conversation. But we know that the intimacy of our friendship is there, nonetheless (more in a future Blog). But what I am saying is that friendships are developed in many ways. A sincere exchange of ideas and thoughts is certainly one of the strongest ways friendships are made. That can be done electronically as well as person to person over dinner or a beer, or sitting next to each other at a football game.
If you think about it, it is not so different from the past, and in an ironic sense, history is repeating itself. I am a student of history (it having been a dual-major in my dusty old college days). When I read American History, I am always impressed with how often major actors in our historic development became close friends through correspondence, in many cases for many years before they actually met.
So, for all of you friends out there that I have never met, but feel that I know well from our internet actions, I thank you for your friendship and look forward to continuing to get to know all of you, and yes, make new friends.