This past holiday season, in a long-anticipated but still remarkable turn of events, I got a wife for Christmas.
Well, strictly speaking, I have had a wife for more than four years, by now. But, what with her course of professional studies in Brazil and the requirements of Immigration Canada, it was only on December 18th she finally arrived in the country, with her permanent residence status, at 2 a.m., and at 35 below.
Under normal circumstances, the nature of my domestic life is neither of interest to, nor any business of, my newspaper readership; I mention it in this instance only because my current situation is the product of internet technology in a way that was groundbreaking even as little as five years ago, but is now becoming commonplace – an “online” relationship that has burgeoned into conventional marriage.
As online relationships go, the one between me and my wife is probably unusual mostly in its long duration: We have been e-mailing, voice and text chatting and occasionally voice chatting since the winter of 2002.
And herein lies my tale: The changes we both have seen in the technological ease of conducting such a relationship, and the increasing public acceptance of that kind of such relationships.
Though I am gregarious my nature, I have always been a reluctant and largely passive player in the online social networking scene.
I have a Facebook page on which I post comments or photos only very rarely, a MySpace page on which I have never posted anything at all; a Linked-in account on which I sometimes accept friendship invitations but never generate any; and a Blogger.com account on which I post only my old Tech @ Work articles.
In the dark, primeval days of 2002, I cut even less of an online presence, and what presence I had was largely a product of my professional obligations as the manager of a small internet service provider company.
One of my duties there was user support, and that meant being familiar with the more popular programs and services my customers were using.
It was that professional commitment that led me to playing around with PowWow, the defunct and now long-forgotten granddaddy of all chat programs. That, in turn, morphed into learning about the ICQ chat program – a pioneering program that once dominated the internet chat scene, but has since lapsed into a minority position.
It was in the course of learning about these programs that I rather haphazardly picked up a number of local, national and international friends and acquaintances. And it was as a casual ICQ acquaintance, with whom I shared an interest in South American and other literature, that I first began ICQ conversations with the woman who is now my wife.
Chat programs in those days were still pretty primitive affairs. There was some small provision for sending each other files, but no means for sharing photos, or voice or video communication. When my wife and I wanted to share and discuss, say, a given piece of music, we would have to separately cue it up on our CD players, count down together, then fire up the players more or less simultaneously.
Sharing photos and larger files was accomplished by uploading them to the folders included in our Yahoo profile accounts (another service that is now defunct), or by using free file transfer protocol (FTP) websites on the internet – pretty nerdy stuff, all in all, and hardly the stuff of romantic spontaneity.
That my wife and I kept it up, over all these years, is a testament to the power of our shared interest and the extent of our long-suffering nerdiness.
Now that we are non-virtually co-located at last, however, I am reverting to type and drifting out of the online chat scene.
For my wife, though, with her friends and family in now-distant Brazil, chat functionality is if anything more important than ever.
Fortunately, though, it is also easier to manage than it was in the old days.
My wife now routinely uses the Yahoo chat program to talk each day or second day with her mother in Brazil, using text, voice and video chat. She also routinely uses the Yahoo chat program to show her mother photos of this strange new world her daughter has landed herself in.
Her mother needed a little training to get used to using this kind of communication, but nothing like the range of computer-geek skills my wife and I had to deploy in the old days.
In fact, it is the increasing ease and ubiquity of this kind of communication that is gradually eroding the stigma of “weirdness” that used to be attached to “online” relationships.
According to one study I read about recently (though I cannot vouch for its accuracy), something like 40 per cent of the young couples who get together in the physical world these days first got to know each other on the internet.
My wife and I, it seems, were inadvertent pioneers in what is now rapidly becoming settled territory.
Perhaps it is only fitting that we hang up our trailblazing axes and trailbreaking snowshoes and just get comfortable in the old fashioned real world, from here on in.
Rick Steele is a technology junkie who lives in Whitehorse.