There’s a kind of a revelation moment that hits you when you suddenly realise that you experience the world in quite a different way to other people. Where you see things from their perspective just for a moment, and something that was baffling to you suddenly makes sense. I just had one of those.

A friend of mine that I talk to online quite a lot (which actually describes most of my friends, come to think of it) referred to our conversation as ‘being on the computer’.

It had never occurred to me that this is what we were doing: being on computers. I thought we were hanging out and talking. Complete perspective shift.

I’m never ‘being on the computer’. I’m working, or I’m talking with friends. I’m writing or I’m listening to music. I’m watching videos or I’m reading. I’m learning about something, or I’m making a call. I use the computer to do all those things, but the computer is utterly transparent to me.

And so, of course, I thought it was the same for everyone else.

But some people have ‘real life’, and then they have ‘being on the computer’. It’s an experientially different thing. Not that ‘being on the computer’ is a negative thing for them, necessarily – but rather that it doesn’t really count in the same way that real life does. For them, getting to know someone happens in person. Whereas for me, getting to know someone doesn’t depend on being in the same room at the same time. It’s better that way, of course – but they both work.

Perhaps it’s because I spend most of my life in my head, knowing other people has to do with opening up a channel of communication for thoughts and ideas, wordplay and trivia, memories and feelings. Whereas for others, getting to know other people is mostly about having shared experiences. Neither of these things are wrong, of course, unless you fail to factor in that the other person might not do this the same way you do.

I have a friend that I met online in the late 1990s, and we used to talk all the time (email and IRC mostly, if I remember correctly). Similar interests and life experiences. Teaches radio at a university. Comes from a production background. Has kids a similar age to Jake’s…

A few years back he invited me to come and do some external examining at his university, and I stayed at his house. At that time, the answer to the question ‘how long have you two known each other?’, I now realise, has two answers: ‘well over a decade’ was one possible answer. The other: ‘we’ve only just met’.

I’m sure there’s a spectrum between those two ways of interpreting the world, and that I’m probably at one extreme end of that spectrum, and the only reason I’ve noticed that this is even a thing is that I’ve encountered someone at the other end of that spectrum. But it’s a totally different way of experiencing life in the 21st century, and I hadn’t considered it. And now I am.

And like all things that have to do with how different people perceive the world, it gives people different understandings and expectations about how the world works and how people should behave and think. And not considering it can cause problems.

I’ll be watching out for that one in future…