Google Plus

Sometimes technology has a way of touching us in the most unexpected ways.

I joined Google Plus during its infancy, within the first month during the throttled-invite-only phase. I must confess, I was courted more by the exclusivity of it all than because I was so very anxious to join another social network. All I knew was that you had to be invited and that it was only 1 week old.

It took me only a week or so to drum up the courage to join a Hangout, a feature that allows you to video chat with up to 9 other people from pretty much anywhere. It was scary, my palms were sweaty and they were complete strangers. In fact, everyone I interacted with on Google Plus was a stranger. And yet, there we were, saying hello, responding to posts and exchanging ideas down threads of conversation.

I really had no idea what was in store for me. None. If you told me then where I’d be now, I would have said you’re insane.

Once I recovered from the initial nervousness I realized everyone else was in the same predicament. Some hid it better than others, or were just inherently more comfortable with the medium; however Google Plus was too new for anyone to be established at Hangouts. As the comfort level grew, so did my enjoyment and love of Hangouts.

As a single mom, I don’t get out much these days. The boys are in bed early but I am up for hours still, a night owl and social by my very nature. Hangouts give me the opportunity to connect with people from all over the world, to sit up late at night and converse, argue, debate, listen to music, explore the internet and ultimately forge some incredible new connections and relationships.

Over the past 6 months I’ve been able to broaden my horizons in fantastic ways. I was introduced to dubstep (yes, I know!) through a music Hangout. I’ve gotten to know more about the remarkable differences and intriguing traditions of other cultures through direct chat with strangers I may never see or meet. I’ve randomly helped a few strangers through small donations. I’ve seen exotic locations through mobile Hangouts and had discussions on everything from food to health care to love won (and lost) .

There have been some incredible, personal stories shared with me. Some publicly in comments on threads and some far more privately. I’m always touched when virtual strangers open up and tell me more about what makes them, them.

After posing a question, what book really seized your imagination and got you to start reading I was astounded at some of the deep answers shared with me. Behind the curtain of a monitor people shared parts of themselves few people share face to face. I read about one person using books to fulfill the role models they never received from their own parents; another shared his personal work experience with one of my favorite authors.

Similar stories, moving and emotional came after a post about dating single parents. I cherish each time people shared themselves with me. Everything from a mother’s death, to the loss of a twin, to surviving childhood cancer, to orphaned adults alone for the holidays…job loss, promotions!, gift exchanges, sharing of that one little link you know will matter to someone, exposure to new music – so much to explore, but all of it in a very personal matter.

What this has really boiled down to, for me, is that all those random, strange “internet people” have become so much more. Connecting through common interests rather than common locations, I feel like I’ve had this amazing opportunity to explore the people that make up the internet.

So what happened to me? I wound  up on a cruise with some of those “internet people” and had the absolute time of my life. I challenge you , who’s out there waiting for you to get to know them? Who haven’t you met yet? What haven’t you learned about yet?

  1. I totally agree with this post. It’s amazing how close you can get to someone without meeting them face to face. I’m closer to some of my G+ friends than I am with friends I’ve grown up with.

    • I think sometimes with our childhood friends, we stop listening and paying attention. Maybe we think we already know them – but my experience is we all bury so much and sometimes it’s so much easier to express it to a stranger.

      Then we all get closer and closer and develop our own set of shared experiences – now based on so many common interests.

  2. This moved me. I’m so appreciative of this new place I sort of call home… and glad you have shared this. It echoes a lot of the sentiments I feel, too.

  3. So true, Hangouts are truly magical. That social tool is the game changer. When I spoke with Facebook, they didn’t believe in such, but Google believes in its power users and they are doing something about it. We are one big happy family 🙂 I call it home, chill spot, it might be the place where we get to meet our soul mates 🙂

    • Ah, but more than just the Hangouts – we get so many chances to interact with so many different types of people. When you just open up and listen it’s astonishing what you hear.

    • stacy frazer
    • January 26th, 2012

    Such a great posting Stephanie! And those of us who know, know exactly what you mean 🙂

    • George Rodenbaugh
    • January 26th, 2012

    You have a very eloquent way of writing. Excellent read SVP.

  4. This is just awesome to read, having had the same kinds of experiences with Hangouts and Google+ in general. Thank you so much for sharing, Stephanie — this is now my go to post for doubters and skeptics!

    • Thank you Eric. I’m still having trouble expressing how much it has meant to me and how much I feel that I’ve really gained, but it has turned my world upside down and in a very great way.

      • Definitely. Don’t worry about it, you’ve got a great start on a story that has only just barely begun.

  5. Said so eloquently and succinctly! Love this post, especially the “Connecting through common interests rather than common locations, I feel like I’ve had this amazing opportunity to explore the people that make up the internet.” I think you just refueled my interests in exploring such people…. thanks!

    • I’m so happy to hear that it’s refueled your enthusiasm. Come find us on a Hangout one night and get to know everyone!

      • Might have to go out and get a haircut for just such an occassion! 😉

        Hey, how did you do that thing on the side so people can click thru to your g+ profile? (Not such a tech savvy butterfly myself, more caterpillar like I’d say)

    • David P.
    • January 26th, 2012

    It is indeed an amazing medium.

    Years ago – about 7 now that I come to think about it – a group of kindred spirits were following the postings of humour columnist Dave Barry. He’d post something funny, and we’d comment on it, trying to be as funny. Before long we started commenting on each other’s comments, and from there whole conversations developed that diverged entirely from Dave’s original post. One conversation grew to literally thousands of posts and was called the Mother Of All Threads – or MOAT. So we dubbed ourselves MOATies. Over still more time we grew to know each other intimately, the ups and downs of each others lives, the joys and unhappiness, our quirks and idiosyncracies. We were there for each other, even though, in some cases, we had never seen a photo of each other, let alone met.

    I still keep in touch with a fair chunk of the people that I grew to know in those days, and I’ve even met a few of them face to face on the various trips I’ve done to the US. These people are some of my closest friends on the planet and I value that friendship greatly. And I still find it extraordinary – as you said knowing people by context rather than location can be every bit as rich an experience as the alternative.

    • This kind of sharing that you did, right here, right now is just the sort of thing I was writing about. I love when people share these small things about themselves. It’s this collection of small things that makes the whole so much more.

  6. I’m sure you sum this feeling up for many, Stephanie. You have for me, and very well said. I was driven to be on this site. I don’t know why. I was determined to get an invite. I had toyed around with Twitter and Fb.

    One thing I’ve learned is that you don’t know who you are dealing with or what they are going through when you cross someones life. You can be the inspiration that lifts them to a new level of existence, or you can rip the last shred of self-respect from their soul. It is because of people like you that just accept others and want to know about their world, that this place is what it is.

    • Isn’t it wonderful that we have found a place where we can do that? You’re completely right in that you never really know what has happened in other people’s lives. Some of the most dynamic, incredible people have shared the most heartbreaking experiences with me, and always….I’m just blown away.

  7. What is this Google+ thing people keep talking about, anyway? I keep hearing about it…

  8. Yes G+ is a wonderfully new and interactive experience. I have met some of the most amazing friends there. I never believe you could make intimate lasting friendships on line and I was proven wrong. Now I am looking forward to meeting many of them In Real LIfe!

    • Anonymous
    • May 2nd, 2012

    I have some of the same sentiments you have expressed here. G+ has been interesting, I’m kinda shy and have been super busy the past several months. I have not tried the hang outs, someday soon……

    • bojanglesblue
    • May 2nd, 2012

    I too joined G+ thru an invite when no one knew what it was.. and ironically… those of my friends shined it on.. found nothing there for them.. while I found art, community, friendship, learning, open sharing of knowledge, laughter, people from all over the world. I’ve not been in a hangout.. perhaps I should try one. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • It’s been a fun ride and I’ve met some really amazing people. If you ever want to ‘ease’ into hangouts, let me know and I’ll be happy to introduce you to them!

    • boldsuccess
    • May 2nd, 2012

    Every day the internet provides an introduction to fascinating people from every walk of life, who live in different parts of the world! Places where I’ve never been and cultures which I might otherwise never experience or more importantly, want to experience. It is a game changer for society, your post is wonderful.

    • Arthur Layton
    • May 4th, 2012

    Wow; Reading every ones comments and there experience with Google and there products, It’s like one big story in a book. It just shows us how we learn from each other and the knowledge we all hold to teach one another when it becomes school, work. hangout and much much more. I too has seen changes with my self of what I do with Google and there products. It’s like relearning of how we think of one another and help each other. Well you guys sums it up of all facts of life and all changes we all are about to make.
    Good story……

    • Craig
    • May 6th, 2012

    This is all very positive, and there is a lot of positive stuff going on out there, but its got its down side which you have to watch for.
    My sister got addicted to chatting to groups – the people were funny and witty and caring and she disappeared into a virtual world. Her husband had to shut down the computer for three months to get her back.
    I’m very happy, too happy, with one-to-ones, bouncing ideas and stories off lots of a really compatible stranger. But sometimes its too much. My last correspondent said she had enough. She felt she was playing with a mental dildo and losing herself inside her own brain. She closed the conversation.
    The worst case is 4chan’s /b/ picture board, which also uses your butterfly symbol. It mocks itself as the hangout of sad, lonely, INTJ betas, living in their mother’s /b/asements, getting stoned, watching porn and never seeing the world. Virtual reality isn’t reality, its sad.

    Don’t get trapped in your own fantasies. Learn to engage with real people. They aren’t as easy to switch off and walk away from, they can hurt you and for introverts, like me, its hard, hard, hard work. But real people are REAL. Its pays off. It really does.

    • You bring up an interesting point Craig, for many people it is easier to have a virtual conversation with somebody online than with a real person. It is a matter of how the person has decided to fulfill one of more of their six basic human needs [certainty, variety, significance, love / connection, growth, contribution] which is often easier to do with a computer screen than face-to-face because the odds of rejection are lower and the imaginary world is less frightening. There are exercises that people can do to expand their horizons and begin to venture out into the real world again to find their courage.

    • I’ve largely stayed clear of 4chan – it isn’t really the sort of connection I’m looking to make. What’s made the difference, for me, is the ability to talk face to face with the people on G+. I’ve even found I now video call my IRL friends rather than just call them by phone. I’m very much a people person, just sorta trapped at home more often than I like.

      I also find it easy to step away for days at a time – everybody’s different, using it differently and questing for different things. My opinion is that addictive personalities will addict – be it online, gambling, drinking, some other hobby – it just depends on the person.

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