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City Lights: Encountering some faces of Facebook

April 19, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Kathleen Janson, Lynn Scheid, Michael Miller and Alan Ray meet for the first time – in person, at least – at a Starbucks in Costa Mesa.
Kathleen Janson, Lynn Scheid, Michael Miller and Alan… (Daily Pilot )

As of Thursday, I am no longer just a name to three residents of our coverage area. I am also the man with the stuffed Emily Dickinson.

Three years ago, I stayed at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Ore., in which every room is themed after a famous writer and the gift shop offers a slew of literary memorabilia. As a souvenir from my trip, I brought back a stuffed doll of the reclusive poet, which now resides on my bookshelf at home. I explain it away to visitors by saying I bought it for my wife, but let's be honest — no literary young man can truly be inspired without a plush Emily Dickinson by his desk.

Last week, though, Emily took a bold venture outside our home. And I guess she has Chip Michael to thank for the inspiration.

You may recall Chip as the founder of TwtrSymphony, a social-media project I wrote about a few weeks back. Chip, the web coordinator for the Pacific Symphony, set out to put an orchestra together via Twitter, with musicians from around the world — none of whom know Chip, or each other, in person — contributing recorded tracks that will be pieced together in the studio. Even the Twitter friends who encouraged Chip to start the campaign knew him only as a name on a screen.

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In the days after I completed that story, I got to looking closely at the names that recurred on my own Facebook and Twitter accounts. Some of them, obviously, I could connect to a personal encounter, but at least half of them were ciphers — mysterious names who repeatedly showed up to "like" my latest post about Obama or riff about pop music. Who were they, really? And how had we come to be friends, in the loosest sense of that word?

So last week, I decided to message three of them on Facebook and set up a meeting in person. In choosing my subjects, I had a few criteria. First, they had to be users who commented on my postings (and vice versa) on a fairly regular basis. Second, I ruled out any political extremists — there are a handful of people I've encountered on social media whom I'd rather not meet face to face. And third, I had to have no memory of meeting them, talking with them on the phone or having any experience not made possible by Mark Zuckerberg.

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