In the last four or five years Ive met more new people on the net
than in any other way. Some of these acquaintances have become true friendships. Not all
directly. I get to know someone via e-mail, then we meet in some place, that person
introduces me to someone else... but the original discovery came from the net. Sometimes
these people live far away, it takes a journey to meet; sometimes they live next door but
without the net we would never have been aware of each other.
Quite often we talk about the way we met. And the subject can be quite fascinating.
We get to know someone that we cant see or touch. Before we meet that person
physically, we know his or her personality, style, mood and feelings. A relationship
builds up, mutual interest, sharing of thoughts and emotions; we want to meet in the
flesh, and sooner or later we do. Very often the question is: «How different am I from what you imagined?»
The process is the reverse of the usual: first we meet the soul, then the body.
Its not necessarily true that we know each other better if we first meet physically. Appearance can prevail over substance. There are people that have been together for decades, maybe sleep in the same bed, but dont really know each other. The classic excuse of the cheating husband (or wife) «She (or he) doesnt understand me» is not just a lie. Physical closeness is not necessarily dialogue and understanding; sometimes it can be an obstacle.
Interesting things happen on the net. There are people that told me in e-mail very
private things about themselves, emotions, doubts, feelings that they may have been less
ready to discuss if we were in the same room. The absence of a physical body often leads
to greater sincerity; people seem less embarrassed in dropping their defenses, less
worried and scared, in the apparently abstract world of disembodied words.
Theres some sort of magic in the meeting of free souls that we see only later as
bodies. When we meet the person physically, he or she is not new. Or
perception is different, because when we look at the outside we already know whats inside.
Im not trying to say that meeting soul before body is always better that the other way round. Sometimes its a better and richer experience, sometimes not. But its not a weaker, or an artificial way of meeting, as imagined by people who have never been on the net.
No doubt, its a new and interesting experience. Its quite intriguing to discover how much a person can reveal by his or her way of saying, reacting, interacting or shutting up. Its fascinating to gradually understand the personality of someone we have never seen; and compare that perception with what we learn when we meet. We are rarely mistaken.
Sometimes physical appearance may surprise us, but nearly always the character and
personality are exactly as we had perceived.
This can be an effective remedy for the widespread disease of caring too much about
appearance. Partly because of the emphasis on looks, and also because of
television, we live in a culture of images. We seem to assume that what people look like
(even the way they dress) is more important than who they are.
Maybe one day the net will lose its magic. Maybe with much larger bandwidth, and better software, than we have today, we shall meet in video; once again appearance will prevail, and in a phony way, because a projected appearance is often more constructed than direct physical contact.
But as long as we continue to exchange words and thoughts we shall have the privilege
of meeting soul before body. And after we have met physically we can continue to decide
what we want to communicate by phone or presence and what we prefer to write.
This is not totally new. History is full of friends and lovers who met quite often but
also had correspondence. How often do people in love, though they meet every day, feel the
need to exchange little notes? But the art of writing was disappearing, in a world full of
telephones. With the net, we have re-discovered it. Often we write simple things, even
silly; we just joke or talk about nothing in particular. Theres nothing wrong with that.
Its a way of staying close, sharing thoughts, regardless of content.
This is probably the biggest single reason why I enjoy the net: its one more way of being human.
Soul and body is the most successful article in this series. It brought lots of mail from readers; it was (and still is) discussed in mailing lists and newsgroups. Twelve years after it was written, its still being spread around the world by all sorts of people sending it to their friends. Obviously this is a feeling shared by many. It was written originally in Italian; it may have been translated into a few more languages, in addition to Chech, English, French, German, Polish, Portuguese, Romenian, Russian and Spanish.