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My Virtual Life: becoming a real buddy with a nod to the Velveteen Rabbit

My Virtual Life: becoming a real buddy with a nod to the Velveteen Rabbit

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be virtual?

Over the last year I spent a lot of time expanding my virtual self. Now, I had a virtual self before last year but there is no denying that, for me, during #rhizo15, and then after, as I started getting more involved with Virtually Connecting, that I really started to do more and more and just Be online. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and this post is just me doing a little reflecting.

A common thread that I have sensed in the undercurrent of it all is this sense of being “Real” as in “In Real Life”. When we talk about meeting in-person vs meeting virtually we often refer to the face to face experience as “Real”, and I’m not sure I agree with that. This is not the first time I’ve thought about this. I worked through this a few months ago with some folks online and started to prefer the term “in the flesh” rather than “in real life” for my own interactions that happen face to face. One of the things that I like about life in general is the ability to work through my ideas in conjunction with others. Online allows me to extend the reach. Does it allow me more diverse voices to interact with? Jury is still out on that one. I’m thankful for the voices that are counter to my own and for the challenges that they bring. I encounter challenging voices online but I encounter them face to face too. I’m thankful for them all. Online transverses space and time better – I’ll give it that.

Over this past year I learned about and how to use a bunch of new technologies. I connected with and learned from people all over the globe. I fell in love and got my heart broken. I made a ton of new friends. I got (and continue to get) called out on some stuff that I was getting wrong… and that stung (stings) but I’m better for it. I traveled and I got to meet some of those people that I was connecting with online at #dLRN15 and #AACUgened16 and some other conferences. I have to say that it has been a pretty rich experience overall.

Did it hurt? Sometimes.

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become.

I started my journey in edtech as a non-traditional student, tech assistant in an office of academic technology at a community college. I did a lot of grunt work and I really wasn’t really sure to what end (It is not that it was not being pointed out to me just that I was greener than most). I just knew that I liked people and I liked technology and that edtech was paying attention to the mixture of the two where many other fields were just being pushed or pulled by them.

I was kind of lost for a long time and not sure what I was going to do with myself. I got another degree. I put myself out there. I landed a gig. It was in an IT department. It was at a university.

And then there is this idea of ontological design. This idea that our environment shapes us. Which seems pretty common sense and I’m not sure that we really need a fancy name like “ontological design” to describe it. But I’ve come to find affinity with fancy names and long titles just as I once had an affinity for disclaimers – I may still I’ve just decided for some reason not to use one here. But in the meantime I got another degree.

And after all of that – after all of that! I now feel kind of like a baby and that my eyes are just now starting to open. It is almost enough to give up, and I would… if it were not that I’m just beginning.

It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’

~ All quotes from: The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams

What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be real? What does it mean to be virtual? What does it mean to create something of beauty – something that might inspire others?

I’m not sure about the answers to these big questions. I’m pretty sure that no matter if we are living online or if we are living face to face that they are still important big questions that are not going anywhere anytime soon.

I started reading this book the other day that is all about how our virtual lives are stealing away our face to face lives. I’m considering exploring this in community because seems, to me, more of a problem of environment in general than a matter of “face to face vs online” or “Real vs. virtual”. But still, I think this book makes some good points about presence and focus – it just blames technology instead.

But who knows if I’ll have time. After all #rhizo16 starts on May 10th… that’s the rumor I heard anyway… you never know with those rhizomes.


I still owe Maha Bali that death post from last year… but I just can’t bring myself to write it.


Photo in the public domain in the United States taken from Wikimedia Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams


10 thoughts on “My Virtual Life: becoming a real buddy with a nod to the Velveteen Rabbit

  1. The idea of the difference between the world of the flesh and the world of some other, disembodied realm long predates most of our technologies, unless you include the fire that the first shamans likely used in ritual as a technology… I like the 60’s term “meat space” for F2F, which I first saw in print from Michael McClure, I believe.

  2. Agree especially with your implication towards the end that it is a mistake to blame technology. The shift you describe of the virtual acquiring a significance that diminishes that of the flesh is part of a much longer trend in the modern world that – if it is possible to use the term – is rooted in the modern soul, and thrives even more in the post-modern. George Simmel described the trend at the turn of the 20th century, when the technocentric enthusiasm was focused on the radio:

    “Modern man becomes removed from the groups closest to him in order to come closer to those more remote from him. The growing dissolution of family ties; the feeling of unbearable closeness when confined to the most intimate group; the increasing emphasis upon individuality which cuts itself off most sharply from the immediate environment – this whole process of distancing goes hand in hand with the formation of relationships with what is most remote, with being interested in what lies far away, with intellectual affinity with groups whose relationships replace all spatial proximity.” (The Philosophy of Money, p476)

    1. Excited to see you in the comments here Torn Halves – thanks for the comment.

      I like the last bit there “intellectual affinity with groups whose relationships replace spatial proximity” this resonates with me. But is that due to value on the quality of intellectual affinity? It seems from this short passage that Simmel (whose work I am not familiar with otherwise) is talking more about some kind of romanticism with the idea of distancing. I suppose I can see this but something seems off to me about it.

  3. Reading this made me wonder why we privilege the meeting of flesh over the meeting of minds? I was recently thinking how my virtual friends know my mind more than my f2f friends do – because the distractions of the flesh get in the way. Even having a child gets less in the way of online interactions than f2f.

    But also soooo touched by the quotes you used and the part about how the well-loved (toys?) appear ugly only to those who don’t understand and that it’s almost like the hurt/scars make them more real. Maybe that’s what it is. If a relationship becomes important enough that it can hurt you, it’s real? I don’t know.

    But yeah I am reading that book in parallel with you and I think your point about her overblaming technology is spot on.

    1. There’s a long literary history of relationships formed at a distance and based on the written world – people who speak heart-to-heart over time and space. Our new technologies permit relationships at-a-distance that are more immediate, but is this really something new?

      As I was reading your post the word “open” came to mind – you are describing the state of being open to experience, to friendship, to challenge, to ideas, and to love. If one chooses to be open, meaningful connections can come from anywhere, across the world or with those we see every day. It’s no coincidence that open learning appeals to those with an open heart.

      Thank you for your lovely writing- it was a great way to start the day.

  4. If you cast back, way back, our ancestors thrived within real and ‘virtual’ communities just the same, an imagined community, living gods, myths or whatever we like to call them, but conversation included the idea of a person who was not manifest. In some way, perhaps ‘virtual’ heartens back to that, more real than just imaginary, yet we fill in the gaps of often not knowing each other, with a sense or essence of someone.

  5. The Velveteen Rabbit always gives me goosebumps. Your reflections intertwined even more so.

  6. Why is it always we have to frame things, especially new things, if they’re better or worse? Social media is one of those big “things.” From some social media has been a godsend – me being one of those. It’s enabled me to interact with people I could never find in my entire state that share my passions. There’s not a lot of fire in Montana for societal evolution by means of a peer-to-peer culture. 🙂

    But for others, social media may not be all that beneficial. But maybe maybe it’s not the “thing,” but rather whether you’re equipped to take advantage of that “thing.” Social media is a tool – a communications tool. It’s nothing more, nothing less. It’s like your phone, your newspaper and your television all put together whenever you want it. Personally that’s pretty cool.

    P.S. Great rabbit metaphor 🙂

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