Hoyden About Town recently spoke on ambient intimacy and assistive devices. She said: "The internet is the virtual watercooler (or coffeehouse, or playgroup, or pub) for people like me, isolated due to disability. And I'm fed up with able-bodied folk slamming electronic community as a meaningless half-life. I'm sick of internet use being constructed as a signifier of a person as a pathetic loser worthy of mockery. And I'm over ignorant pundits reviling the rise in electronic community as The End of the World as We Know It, a one-way highway to the inevitable disengaged, apolitical fragmentation of society."
Disambiguity tells me that ambient intimacy is "about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible". I do this. I am friends with people on a forum that is almost entirely US-based but I find a lot of support on there. I am also a member of forums on BubHub and Joyous Birth, and while I'm not a prolific poster there yet, I am doing a lot of reading for personal and professional reasons. I am also on Ravelry. These give me a community that I don't have access to in the real world or IRL (in real life) as it is referred to.
What makes these less "real" than the physical world? I tell people on these forums things that I wouldn't otherwise share with anyone other than my most intimate friends - but sometimes you want a community of people to respond to you. And that community is self-selecting, in that they have an inherent interest in you/what you're talking about. How am I to know whether my friend is interested in my school life, or my tooth ache, or how to deal with a situation with a work colleague, or how to talk to ManFriend about debt and plans for the future? I don't have that many tangible friends that are older and more experienced and forums give me access to those, so they are just as real as the person I can hug. And when the forums that I am part of are places where people will call me on my shit, or give me a point of view that I've not considered or would never have researched, I see them as more useful than my friends, who can sometimes want to save my feelings by not being honest.