Online interaction and intimacy

While I was in graduate school I took a class about online communities (it was a fluffy Human-Computer Interaction course of the type common in a specialty that is not yet well defined). I enjoyed the course a lot: we studied all sorts of online communities, including Ultima Online, which was especially cool because we were invited to go out on horseback with Lord Blackthorn himself. Having grown up playing the Ultima series, this was a real treat. :) He called down lightning to scare off the dirty peasants (all cash-paying users) and invited us into his unreachable castle, where he gave us armor and weapons and imbued us with unnatural strength (we were on the telephone with him simultaneously, listening to him bitch about the ungrateful users we rode past -- almost all of them asked for money). I have screenshots of all of this, but I can't find them right now.

Anyway, as part of the course we also taked a lot about false intimacy, which is commonplace among online "relationships" (in the broadest sense of the term). I get it often from people with whom I have never even had a conversation with. During a first "meeting," whether it be online of offline, they tell me that they feel like they already know me really well (because of this site). Well... it's a one way street. *I* don't feel like I know them. I am not really a private person, but I do value my privacy. My close friends are almost all people with whom I've developed intimacy over the course of long periods of time, with few exceptions (although those exceptions do exist). And no matter how close I might feel to someone after long sessions of mostly online correspondence, he or she will always remain on the "other side" until I am able to confirm that bond in person.

Some people say that people are who they want to be, online, and that if you get to know someone in a medium without superficial distractions, you are getting to know the "real" person. I find that to be a bit idealistic if most of one's time is spent in the material world. If you are defined by your online presence and relationships, I might agree more, but since most people have to interact with people face-to-face at some point, I take more stock in what they are like in person over what they are like online.

Perhaps the new generation, having grown up with electronic communication as the norm, will not have that "line" that must be crossed in order to feel true friendship...?

By the way, I am not saying that a lot about me can't be gleaned from, nor am I saying that I can't make friends with online folk. I'm just saying that there is likely to be an information imbalance upon first contact, and that true friendship isn't easily earned. I hope that I'm not scaring anyone off. After all, I have hosted gatherings where I don't know 90% of the people. :)