How can you know someone you've never met?

I recently had an email from science journalist Angela Saini. We've never met, never spoken on the phone, never exchanged emails, yet each felt we knew the other slightly, as we had read each other's blog and posted comments on them.

So, in a way, I feel like I know Angela, but we don't really know each other at all. I suppose there's a two dimensional spectrum of knowing at play here. At one end is your best mate, at the other that embarrassing kind of 'knowing' someone where you go up to them in a bar, and you say 'don't I know you from somewhere?', and they sigh and say 'I'm on TV.'

But my initial example is a genuine two-way knowing from people who have had no real direct communication. With all the electronic media and social networking going on these days, I think we need a new word for this kind of indirect knowing someone. It could be to knowe someone (the 'e' at the end for electronic) or to kmow someone ('m' for media) - or something else much better someone else can think of.

Whatever it is, it would be useful to have such a word to get round the need to tediously introduce yourself 'We sort of know each other from exchanging comments on blogs' - or even worse, 'I "know" you electronically,' which sounds like a euphemism for low grade cybersex.

What do you think? I'd love to get to knowe you.


  1. It is odd, this new etiquette of "knowing" people online - especially if you then actually meet them. In the past 3 years (excluding colleagues and family) I have met more people in real life whom I first encountered blogging than in any other way. Is that strange? Sad? Crazy? I don't know, but I am enjoying it! It is perhaps a bit like an arranged marriage, in the sense that you both have a thorough "list of common interests and attitudes" check before actually meeting?

  2. By the way, I just remembered - I did hope to actually meet Angela the other week, as I attended a conference and apprarently she had also said she might attend (so someone there told me). I did not manage to spot her, though. I do like her contributions to Nature Network.

  3. To complicate it even further, there's the matter of how you "know" them online. If you "meet" someone through a shared interest or perhaps work, there's some sort of connection there that isn't only about a chance encounter online. How else are people with obscure hobbies such as decorating snail shells or emu breeding supposed to hook up with likeminded others?

  4. Sarah - I guess there will usually be something in common, or why would you have the chance encounter. (So I know you're called Sarah, for instance, thanks to a shared interest in writing, though you're definitely in the knowe class.)

    I'm not attacking the concept - indeed it's a great way to hook up with other emu breeders, or in my case writers and scientists. It's just that until recently that would have taken place at the local emu breeders club, so you would meet conventionally, rather than knoweing them despite never having met.

  5. Sorry, I meant Sara - that's the trouble of using memory on a knowe!

  6. CHICKEN SEEKS EGG: Lonely emu-breeder, male, nonsmoker, 78 mi. from Alice Springs, seeks other emu-breeders for companionship, swapping stories, eggs, who knows, maybe more? Please send picture of emu.

  7. It's an interesting post, Brian, picking up on the zeitgeist of the cusp of something or other, in the town hall if wet, restrictions may apply.

    Like Maxine, I have gotten to know lots of people really well through the blogosphere, and I always enjoy meeting them in person (including your good self!)

    Sometimes the iRelationship seems so close that on one occasion I met a fellow blogger and we were both convinced that we'd met before, except that when we thought about it - hard - we discovered we hadn't.

    Not sure it's an entirely new phenomenon, though - more the rediscovery of the ancient art of correspondence, when people wrote letters often, physical travel was difficult and very expensive, and the postal service delievered many times a day. I am sure that - say - Darwin, or Jane Austen, or H. P. Lovecraft (the last a formidable correspondent) 'knew' many more people remotely than they did 'in person'.

  8. Brian, I'm not sure people necessary have anything in common (except obviously going online to "meet" other people in the first place). There are all sorts of social networking sites that don't seem to have any particular theme other than being social networking sites. Sort of the virtual equivalents of pubs, only without the alcohol and near-death experiences involving darts.

  9. Anonymous - nice one!

    Henry - you're right, but I think it feels a lot more immediate because of the directness of e-contact.

    Sara - possibly, although even on (say) Facebook, almost everyone I'm virtual friends with I have something in common, whether it's writing, going to the same school or living in the same village... and we've all got internet access, and mostly are from Western countries. So I'm not convinced it's really a random connection.

  10. Brian, I love the idea of having a word to describe an internet acquaintance. Nice to knowe you.

    Maxine, I'm aware of the conference of which you speak. I was supposed to attend but I got commandeered by the BBC to do some work at the last minute. Hopefully catch you next time!


Post a Comment