Communicating online is a strange phenomenon. Whether it's through blogging or e-mail or instant messaging, without realizing it you create a mental picture of the person you're communicating with. If it's someone you know, you picture their smile (or frown) as they write to you. You see their eyes. You sense their familiar mannerisms as you read their words.
If it's someone you've only met online, whether through business or pleasure, the physical characteristics in your mind's eye may be imaginary but through the mental connection you've developed with that person you can still visualize them sitting at their computer working or laughing or crying as they communicate and share their thoughts and feelings.
Perhaps that's why it's always so surreal to me when I go to someone's house or office and see their writing area for the first time. It's the area where they share their most personal inner thoughts with friends and family and sometimes virtual strangers. It's the space where they have laughed at so many jokes sent by relatives and co-workers. It's where they pay their bills and view their porn and read their religious chain e-mails. It's where they download music and do homework and play online games with people from all over the world.
The area within a few feet of a person's computer, whether at work or at home, is a very personal and individual space and, yet, many characteristics are universal. Some people have snacks. Some of us have Sea-Monkeys. Occasionally, there is an emply coffee mug or soft drink can. There are usually a lot of PC games in various degrees of completion, many of which never made it much past the intro screens. You almost always find lots of little pieces of paper with passwords and login names and web addresses to check out.
It's like looking behind the curtain at Oz or as though a magician has lifted the veil of secrecy. Something that has always been only a product of your imagination is real and tangible and right in front of you.
And it usually needs dusting.