Welcome to meatspace

You might think I spend all my time in the virtual world, but really I don't

The words slipped out of my mouth before I had time to stop them. Sitting at the low table of a Japanese restaurant in central London with some non-geek friends whom I hardly ever find the time to see, I was discussing my new-found infatuation with Facebook - a version of social networking sites such as MySpace, but less frequented by teenagers. "Why would you want virtual friends when it's so hard to keep up with your real ones?" asked a bemused girlfriend. "Oh no," I countered, "most of my friends online are people I already know in meatspace."

Cue an eruption of outraged guffaws. I don't know when I started using the term "meatspace" to refer to the real world (as opposed to the world of the web) or, indeed, where it came from, but I clearly hadn't tried it out on this particular circle of friends before. I looked deep into my bowl of chicken teriyaki, but there was no escape from the derision of my peers.

Regular readers may be under the impression that I spend all of my time swimming among ones and zeros in a digital utopia, resurfacing once a week to despatch 500 words to the analogue world via my editors at the NS. But they would be misled. Since the halcyon days of Napster, after which I got bored with downloading the cheesy pop songs of my pre-teen years, I haven't really been back to file-sharing. I don't hanker after the latest gizmos and gadgets, and I rarely check my emails at weekends. In fact, many of the things I like doing - cookery, long country walks, saunas - positively require the existence of the real world.

I use the web mainly for what's useful and what saves me money. RSS feed aggregators conveniently bring me the latest from the blogs and newspapers I need to read for my professional life, meaning I occasionally have time for a novel in the evening. Internet telephony reduces my phone bills (and means that I get to wear a headset and pretend I work at a 1950s telephone switchboard).

Some of it I do find rather fun, though. Facebook, which I have come to woefully late, is like a photo album of all your friends pinned on your office wall, a place to visit on the sly at work, with the bonus that, while you were away, one of them might have written you a message, or invited you to a party on the weekend.

But I like to think I would never travel as far into the virtual world as some of my friends. Like the one who used Twitter - a site that allows you to broadcast random thoughts to your social circle - to announce her engagement.

Compared to your average Joe, I am an unashamed geek. But perhaps it's the unashamed bit that's important here. A few days after the restaurant incident, I made a new friend on Facebook. Turns out that one of my fellow diners had had an account for ages. And after the friend request came a message: "See you in the meat world."

Becky Hogge is a writer and technologist. She was formerly the technology director of award-winning current affairs website openDemocracy.net, and Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, a grassroots digital civil liberties organisation.

This article first appeared in the 30 April 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan: The Taliban takeover