I am not fond of the term “In Real Life (IRL)”.

As far as I’m concerned, everything I do is my real life. Some people that I consider good friends are people I’ve never met in person – amazing people like Becky McCray, Jason Falls, Jason’s Dad Chillie, Deb Brown – aw, heck, I could go on for a week. I’ve only met my friend Jon Swanson in person once, last year, for about an hour, at lunch. Before our short meeting, I called him, as we were about to pass through his town. I realized until that moment when he picked up the phone, that I’d never actually talked to him before. Our entire year long friendship, until that second, had happened through written text alone.

These people are my friends. I’ve grown to care about them deeply over the past few years, as much as I care about people that are in my physical space every day. I think they might be a bit put out if I thought that they weren’t part of my “real life”.

So, maybe I can make a deal with you…how’s about we stop using “in real life” to describe our offline relationships? It’s not respectful of our online friends. Cool?

That said, this post is really more about the offline world, as opposed to the online one. Call it my feeble attempt at being ironic.

Where everybody knows your name. Every Friday afternoon, a whole gaggle of geeks converge on a pub downtown for what is affectionately known as #FridayOffice* (go ahead, search the hashtag on Twitter – you’ll see.). It was started by my friend Tom (@wtl), who is a home-based working type of guy, as a way for him to get out of the “office” for an afternoon, have some lunch, and possibly get caught up on a few things. Tom is the fixture of the event, he takes up residence mid-morning and stays around the whole afternoon. Other people drop in and out, grabbing some lunch, maybe a beer, and often hauling out their laptops for a while too. It’s evolved from one guy getting a change of scenery to a weekly tradition.

But #FridayOffice is about much more than beer and lunch. It’s not really that much about work. What it’s really about is community. We go there to get a break from our busy weeks, to socialize, and to connect. Oh sure, lots of us spend time together online during the week…often we’re all floating in each others’ Twitter streams and Facebook walls. We’re reading and commenting on each others’ blogs, and sometimes we’re even working together on projects. But the in-person meet up is a different dynamic altogether. Why? Because it’s real-time. I mean REAL real-time. We get to talk, laugh (and boy, do we laugh!), collaborate, and learn. There’s lots of energy in play, so it’s a place where we can openly discuss issues, come up with ideas, and check in with how people are REALLY doing. Every time I go to #FridayOffice, I come away with something I didn’t have before. I get a lot out of those couple of hours every week. Others do too – that’s why we keep showing up.

Reach out and touch someone. As much as I love connecting to people online, my goal is always, someday, to meet my online friends and colleagues in-person. Why? Because once I’ve had the experience of being in the same room as someone, somehow, our relationship changes a bit. I mean, it’s okay if I don’t get to meet you in person. It doesn’t mean we’re friends any less. But every single time, without fail, that I’ve met one of my online friends in person, I get a whole new perspective on them. They say something like 80% of communication is non-verbal. That means, if I’ve never talked to you face to face, I only sort of know you 20% (and likewise, you only know me that much). Now, it turns out that’s a pretty important 20%, right? After all, I’ve got whole friendships based on that 20%. But once we’ve met, shaken hands (or, more likely hugged, ‘cuz I’m a hugger), and have had some time to SEE how each other is – the way our voices sound, our mannerisms, facial expressions, how we tilt our head to the side or that nervous leg twitch – we get the rest of the story. Instantly, our relationship goes to a different level. We get the full picture of each other.

Meeting in person certainly does NOT discount the friendship we’ve built to that point. But it does add a new layer, and an important one. In person is the reason why the geek community here in Ottawa is so tight knit. We make a point of having meet-ups, and tweet-ups, and going to Third Tuesdays and Social Media Breakfasts and #FridayOffice. We know that our online interactions are critical to making connections, building our friendships and finding new opportunities to do business together. But like my friend Eden (whom I HAVE met in person) says – face to face trumps online, every time.

So…it pays to get out from behind the computer screen once in a while. For as much as your real life can exist here on the Web, the “rest of your life” exists out there.

What are you waiting for?

— #FridayOffice is a registered trademark (well, sort of) of What The Lemur?