I have been enjoying Plurk since June 2008 and have found people there of whom I have become very fond. They are individuals, but they’re also a group. I have received and given an awful lot of emotional support there which has been helpful in many ways: helpful in avoiding depression and defusing anxiety; helpful in learning more about people (really a lot – I understand a lot more about the emotional life of women now than I ever did before, for example); helpful in terms of feeling valued.
One of the troubles with Plurk, though, is that it sucks up a lot of one’s time and energy. Fairly early on I became Plurk-obsessed, spending all night typing messages to people (you know who you are!). After a while I got over it and scaled back to a manageable level. One of the key features of Plurk is the ability to turn on and off one’s subscription to the posts of one’s “friends”, without dropping them as friends, and without them being informed. There are lots of ways of managing one’s reading load on Plurk, but mine is to reduce my friend list as much as possible and then to switch on (“follow“) only those friends whose Plurks I genuinely want to read. In this way I can pay full attention to those people. If I tire of reading someone’s Plurks, I switch them off for a while and try again in a few weeks. If they stay off for ages, I eventually drop them as a friend. Usually, they haven’t been commenting on my Plurks, so the uninterest is mutual!
In these ways, I select and get to know a group of people of whom I eventually become quite fond. Some of them, I get awfully fond of. To be fair to me, I haven’t fallen hopelessly in love with anyone on Plurk (you know who you nearly were!), but that’s only because I’m older and a little more balanced than perhaps I once was.
Then comes the sad part: sometimes people leave Plurk. As I mentioned before, it can be a terror in stealing one’s free time, or one’s otherwise committed time, or one’s creative time. (I have worried about this myself a bit, because my creative activities have certainly suffered. But my social life has certainly benefited.) So they leave, and leaving is usually a struggle, because those left behind cling on (“We’ll eat you up – we love you so”, said the Wild Things). The manner of leaving therefore becomes sudden and shocking – a clean break is the only way to do it. Then comes the grieving. I’m doing some of that today as you might have guessed.
As a one-horse social networker so to speak, I lack the confidence in cyberspace that some of my friends have – “I’ll see you elsewhere on the Internet”, some of them say. But I think, “But what if I don’t?” So I need to grow up and remember that real contacts made will last beyond Plurk. I still remember the brother of one of my remaining Plurk friends, who left last Summer. I was so upset that I tracked him down and met up with him in the pub. Must do that again actually. I almost managed to meet another plurker at Leeds station a few weeks ago, and have every hope of meeting a Canadian plurkfriend in Vancouver next week. Physical hugs are more satisfying than virtual ones, but the sad thing is, one gets them so much less frequently.
Of course, one makes contacts and loses them again in person as well as on the Internet. One big difference though is the turnover rate. I’ve made more deep contacts online since June last year than I have in person in the last 10 years. (I’ve likened it to a second teenagerhood.) With those who have left Plurk, I know that I won’t have the daily contact in the future that I have enjoyed in the last months. There’s no doubt that I will be grieving.
Will I “learn” from these natural, blameless losses not to get into such deep emotional commitments? Perhaps getting into deep relationships on Plurk has been part of the recovery from my mid-life crisis, exploring the possibility of making commitments again, having lost the ability to do that completely a few years back. Part of me really hopes I don’t “learn” not to do that – the part of me that has always been an over-committer; someone who is willing to throw themselves into an activity or commitment without reserve, without keeping something back for a rainy day. I love that attitude, because it represents the living of life to the full, the plunging deeply into incarnation and getting the most out of one’s experience of life. If I have re-learnt part of that through Plurk, then it’s been an experience well met, well sent, well planned.