Putting your best face forward

The pic has glasses, the person doesn't. The pic looks thoughtful and pensive but the person shoots from the hip.

A funny thing happened to me the other day. Not funny haha, but funny unusual. I met up with someone face-to-face.

Why was this funny? Because it was a person I'd normally be interacting with online. Not In Real Life (IRL). Then only this morning it happened again with someone else. Another IRL meeting. I can often go for months, sometimes even years, without ever meeting any of my online students, colleagues or allies IRL. It's almost always with a URL.

So, how was it? A little weird, to be honest. In the first meet-up the profile pic was spot on. Looks like it could've been taken yesterday, which fed my belief that I actually knew this person. Then they opened their mouth and real words came out in a high pitched and squeaky tone that made me think of a chipmunk on helium. I think I did a jaw-drop as my brain struggled to make the connection work. Online this person was witty and wise. In person, they were slightly abrupt and terse (and so squeaky!). It dawned on me that this is probably someone who writes, re-writes, checks, re-checks and then posts, because the first words out verbally certainly needed editing.

The second meet-up was also a contradiction. The URL persona was a better match for the IRL person, but the profile pic had me fooled. What was long, blonde and flowing is now shoulder length with a definite reddish hue. The pic has glasses, the person doesn't. The pic looks thoughtful and pensive but the person shoots from the hip. Don't get me wrong – I like this person both on and off the screen, even though we've only just really met. It just took me a few moments to make the connection work in my head. But overall it was good.

It's happened to me before, now I think about it. I teach online. I chose a profile pic that was okay at the time and got busy with the job of teaching. I try to meet or talk with all of my students before we go online, but there are a couple who come in part way through and miss the initial personal introduction. I remember one Saturday I knew some of my online students were attending a local workshop at a TAFE campus nearby, so I called in to see them. "I didn't recognise you!" one of them said to me. I wasn't sure if it was a compliment or a criticism.

Graduation is another collision of IRL and URL. Last graduation I met with students I've been online with for 18 months and never actually met in person. Until they were leaving. My students love meeting their facilitators IRL, but more than once I was told; "Hang on a minute… is that you? You're nothing like your picture!"

Online, you really can get to feel that you know someone. The teachers on our program frequently report that they have a good understanding and connection with students, and I believe them because I feel that connection with my students too. Just occasionally there is an odd discourse between what we think we know or have assumed and the reality.