My name is Zachary Cohn, and I've met a lot of people from the Internet. Most recently I met my doppelganger, Zachary Cohen.
[caption id="attachment_133" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="The Internet is a Series of Tubes"][/caption]Meeting people from the Internet is not a big deal to me anymore, although other people still freak out when I mention it. There have been three primary circles I've met people from: Massassi, Parkour, and The Rest of the Internet. The first two really helped me be comfortable with the last one.
Massassi.net started in 1997 and was dedicated to editing and modding a Star Wars game called Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight. The game is now 14 years old, and except for the occasional game for “old times sake” no one has played in five years. But everyone was such good friends and the community was so tight that most people have stayed around. I found Massassi in 2001, and have checked it daily since.
The first person I met from the Internet was through Massassi, and was probably Gebhoq. I found out he lived about 20 minutes away, so we saw a play and grabbed lunch together. After that, I visited Rochester Institute of Technology, where I was going to go to school. There were six people from Massassi that, by chance, all ended up there, so we met up and they showed me around. I've met a bunch more people from Massassi, but I had talked daily with most of them for years, so it was more like reuniting with a long-time friend.
The next circle of internet meetings is through Parkour. When I first started training, there was no one experienced in my area. I saw on some local parkour forums that a bunch of people meeting up to train in Washington DC, so I drove down to meet them. I showed up in this park to find a dozen teenage boys, mostly shirtless, jumping, climbing, and flipping around. I was a bit nervous at first - I didn't even know most of their handles, let alone names or anything about them. Five minutes after introducing myself, I felt we'd known each other for years. Since that first parkour jam, I've been great friends with Leonn, Psychosis, Doc_Ahk, Kipup, and RPG.[caption id="attachment_135" align="alignright" width="150" caption="David Belle - Parkour"][/caption]
After that I was 100% comfortable meeting traceurs (people who train parkour) in person, to the point where I traveled for 8 weeks to 21 different cities one summer, and never spent a dime on housing – I just crashed on couches the entire time. I'd post up on the parkour forums for some city I've never been to, say I'm passing through, and I'd have people fighting over who would host me. My favorite meeting was stepping off a Greyhound Bus in Minneapolis at 4:15am, stumbling onto the street and looking at this guy standing by a car. I walk up and he says sleepily, “Happydud?” (My online handle for a while), I respond back just as sleepily “Krat0r?” Then we decide to go back to his place, sleep for another six hours, then formally introduce ourselves later that morning.
After meeting Massassians and spending weeks with people through Parkour, I've come to fully internalize the idea that strangers from the internet are no different then strangers in your neighborhood. A few weeks ago after a typo'd tweet, I was introduced to @ZacharyCohen (My handle is @ZacharyCohn). He had the middle name I've always wanted (Adam, so his initials spell his name – Z.A.C.). He's interested in a lot of the same things I'm interested in, and he lived in NYC. Conveniently enough, I had an overnight layover in NYC coming up! So last night I showed up at New York Penn Station and went to my doppelganger's condo. He opened the door and said “Hello, Zac!” I replied “Hello, Zac!” and it was like we were best friends. We hung out for a few hours, talked a lot, and there wasn't a single awkward “you're a stranger from the internet” type moment.
[caption id="attachment_136" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Networking - It's Dumb"][/caption]People make a big deal about “networking.” Going to events, meeting people, exchanging business cards, etc. I hate networking. The word leaves a sour taste in my mouth. It feels so fake – like most people want to talk with you long enough to pitch you on what they do, give you a business card hoping you'll need to call them one day, and then they move on to the next person (Not saying all networking events or all people who go to them are like this, but it's undeniably the norm).
Instead of networking, I want to make friends. I want to find people who are legitimately interesting to me, and legitimately interested in me. I want to talk to them about WHY they do what they do, what they do when they're not at their job, what books they've read, what they think about the Civil War or China's concern for the environment or anything. I don't want to end the conversation with “give me a call, maybe we can help each other out.” I want to end it with “Continue our conversation over lunch next week?”
When I meet people from the internet in person, I guess technically it's “networking.” But if I thought of it that way, I doubt I'd have half the friends I have today.
Stop networking. Start making friends.
DISCLAIMER: While I've had nothing but good experiences with meeting people, there is always the chance you could meet someone with less than honest intentions. Between my decade of martial arts, five years of parkour, and experience meeting people, I am pretty comfortable in these situations. But I am still very aware of potential threats. In the words of Han Solo, “Don't get cocky.” Be safe.