I have a pen pal.
We’ve never met. Not in person, anyway. Well, not in the flesh, I mean. I find it hard to define what constitutes “in person” lately. It seems like a good bit of my person is having an out-of-body experience in a virtual world. And that’s where I met my pen pal.
We’re both Burners, of course. That’s how it started.
We met by the Internet’s water cooler, reading the same Burning Man posts and feeling giddy about summer coming on. Soon, we were sharing photos, little windows into each other’s days just 600 pixels wide.
That’s actually a pretty wide window into someone’s life, if it’s open and the blinds are drawn. Human beings are pretty vast, but we’re also vivid. A lot of light gets through even a tiny aperture, and our sensors are pretty sensitive.
Burners are not special in this way, but maybe we just tend to focus on the same scenes. It’s a startlingly immediate connection, a confluence of perspective, meeting a fellow Burner in the wild.
Not that I met my pen pal in the “default world” at all. I’m not ready to extend that burnerism to the Internet. That’s a little too @GreatDismal a vision of the future.
But wherever we are, screen names and avatars, we’re still living the principles, making normal moments into works of art and giving them to each other. Just because we can’t feel them doesn’t mean they aren’t there, and vice versa.
We can’t be all virtual, though. Our bodies have mass, and the enormous gravity of our eventual meeting at Burning Man exerts a powerful force.
“Will you be my pen pal?”, I asked in a direct message.
She said her heart skipped a beat when she read that. Strong stuff.
And now we make letters and send them to each other. It takes five days for them to traverse the west coast of the United States from south to north, and five again from north to south.
It’s incredible how, in 2011, this still-modern marvel feels like such a long wait. (more…)