Monday, February 6, 2012

HIRL Today, Gone Tomorrow (Part 1)

Almost in the blink of an eye the long awaited New York City Hangout In Real Life event has come and gone. But not before virtual relationships were made real and cemented with firm handshakes and, yes, hearty hugs and kisses. This event brought together people from all over the United States, Canada and Europe who frequently spent time in Google Plus Hangouts. They only knew each other from on-line video chat sessions over the last six to eight months. Some people decided to throw a party in New York and see who would come. Over 70 people participated in various events scheduled from Thursday to Sunday.

Photos by Boris Gorelik
I made a number of observations I would like to share with you. Perhaps the only surprising aspect of this entire event was that there were no surprises. Allow me to explain.

My HIRL began with the tour at Google headquarters downtown Manhattan where I connected with a handful of others in the lobby. Not everyone looks exactly like their profile picture and so there is a little bit of awkwardness until you connect the face with a name. Just as you would expect, the level of comfort  with each person is exactly proportional to the amount of time spent in a hangout.

Bear in mind there were many people with overlapping circles of friends, however, not everyone has been in a hangout with everyone else. There were still some "strangers" in the crowd and yet everyone was immediately accepted as part of the group. I will come back to this point again.

Our Google tour guide, Patrick, was genuinely interested in our views, opinions and suggestions for how to improve the network. In true Google fashion he was open and honest, shared whatever he could with us, showed us around answering questions and engaged us in a truly thought provoking discussion.

As our tour ended back in the main lobby several of my closest hangout buddies were waiting for their tour to begin. They had already experienced the emotion of HIRLing together and now it was my turn. One by one, the reality at the moment of recognition hits you. Here before me stand these people with whom I have spent countless hours and formed deep and everlasting bonds. Now, for the first time I can grasp a hand, wrap my arms around and physically embrace them.

Photos by Boris Gorelik

It's difficult to put into words how that first handshake, that first hug and long embrace actually felt. It wasn't at all like meeting for the first time but more like returning home after a long trip away. Think about running into your best friend at work who transferred to an office in another city only a month ago, or your college roommate passing through on his way back from his first year at grad school in another state. You know them so well, yet you don't know everything about them and haven't seen them for a while. But the moment you are together again it's as if you never parted. 

In our case some of us had achieved that level of connection before we ever physically spent time together. The initial meeting felt more like a reunion. This level of ease and comfort interacting would persist throughout the two days as our joint adventures continued.

(Still to come: the Midtown tour, visit to HQ, concerts, photo walk and final dinner party)

Captain Joe

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