Before I was made redundant and my wife and I swapped roles nearly two years ago, blogging and Twitter were just words I’d heard, not tools of communication.
Even though I was a magazine executive, and had been for many years, they had passed by my allegedly fine-tuned radar.
Even email seemed impersonal: prone to misunderstanding, time-consuming, not immediate enough for the ebb and flow of a good old session of Putting The World To Rights.
I was a Let’s Meet For Beers After Work type of bloke, be it with my colleagues or the people I was lucky enough to count as Lifelong Friends.
The phone and face-to-face were my tools for making and keeping up with friends.
And then I became a housedad and lost my confidence…and with it, my physical connection with the outside world.
Keeping up with mates turned from a waterfall, to a weir, to a stream, to a trickle, and then eventually, a drought-baked riverbed of incommunicado.
Instead, I became a blogger, and a Tweeter (but never a Facebooker – that’s a bridge too far). These activities gave me a sense of purpose – a goal, in terms of challenging myself to write a post a day; contact and support, via the comments and feedback; and new friendships, via the common interests one finds and shares on Twitter.
But a couple of weeks ago, I thought: ‘What am I doing with my life? I don’t know these people. I’ve never met them; have no idea what they look like; have no idea who they really are. They’re not my friends. How can they be?’
I craved the physical contact I used to have when I was a Working Man, where body language, a look in the eye, a raised eyebrow, a nuanced smile, revealed far more in a person than 140 characters, or a short, snappy, albeit supportive, comment ever could.
But I’d deliberately excluded myself from such intercourse. I stopped accepting invitations, made excuses not to travel across town for a catch-up over a Doombar or three.
Partly, this was because I felt embarrassed by my circumstances. All my Real World friends, bar none, were successful in the terms by which I measured success: they had jobs. Good jobs.
What was I? A housedad. I had nothing to say to them any longer. All I knew was cooking and cleaning and collecting kids from school and playdates. I felt less than them, and so I threw myself into cyberlife and happily existed there.
But a couple of weeks ago, I realised that I did have something to say, something to offer: my pride in being a full-time dad to my stepdaughter and two sons.
So I set out to re-connect with my past. I got back in touch with the friends I’d excluded myself from and arranged a flurry of beers, and suffered a pounding cacophony of hangovers.
And do you know what I ended up talking about? This blog, the people I have met through this blog, the people I have come to know, respect and enjoy via Twitter.
Which is when the penny dropped: my cyber friends are as real as the ones I have in the physical world.
My identity is fundamentally intertwined with my existence here, in these posts, and there in 140 characters, and in those other places, most notably the pubs where I see the Real Worlders.
The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive; the two can co-exist. The two are as real as each other, albeit in different ways.
The moral of this story, dear readers – as you will have already gathered – is that Balance Is The Key.
But also, that the two worlds do not have to be kept separate. To prove that point, many of my Real World Friends are now subscribing to my blog and following me on Twitter.
And in one month’s time, I will be meeting my Cyber Friends at the BritMumsLive conference, where I hope they will become Real World Friends, too.