The Conversation

Joe Nocera and Kara Swisher

The Conversation

Joe Nocera and Kara Swisher

The Conversation
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Aug. 26 1999 6:22 PM

Joe Nocera and Kara Swisher

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Dear Kara,

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I think I'll decline your offer to predict the future, and instead head in another direction for my last Breakfast Table entry. (Or is it the Dinner Table by this time of day?) Did you see the story buried (alas) in the "Circuits" section of the New York Times today by Katie Hafner? It was a thoughtful, beautifully written meditation on the differences between a real-life community and a virtual community--a meditation provoked by the death of her father, who lived in Williamsburg, Mass., right up the road from me.

"The week I spent in Williamsburg just after the crash"--her father was killed when the small plane he was piloting crashed--"was a blur," she writes. "But what did stay in sharp focus were the faces and voices of the people who came to the door or stopped me on the street to tell me they had known my father. They knew his comings and goings, his eccentricities. They had been to his house for dinner and heard his stories ... They had argued with him at town meetings and read the letters he sent to the local paper."

She goes on to compare this community to the virtual communities, such as the Well, that have sprung up on the Internet--and about which she herself has written admiringly. "In the course of writing about the Well," she says, "I saw people there grieve for their fellow members when they died and marshal support in an emergency. I saw intense commitment to community ... But my experience in Williamsburg was of a different order, and it convinced me that the real and virtual communities are fundamentally different." Ultimately, she concludes, the real community is more cohesive. It works better.

On some level, I feel the same way about the exercise we've just concluded. It's been a lot of fun; it's been thought-provoking; and I feel as though I've gotten to know you a little bit. But no more than a little bit--and therefore it's not completely satisfying. Wouldn't it be more fun, and more thought-provoking to talk about the things we've been e-mailing each other about? Wouldn't you prefer to see the face and hear the voice? I would--any day. Now that we've had these exchanges, I want to get rid of the technology and talk to you in person. So the next time I'm in Silicon Valley, I'll give you a call and maybe we can have a beer.

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No, I won't e-mail ahead of time. I still prefer the telephone. Old habits die hard.

Joe Nocera is an editor-at-large for Fortune magazine who lives in Northampton, Mass. Kara Swisher covers Silicon Valley for the Wall Street Journal and is the author of aol.com: How Steve Case Beat Bill Gates, Nailed the Netheads, and Made Millions in the War for the Web (clickhereto buy the book).