Tony Dinos, 72 years old has owned the Ramova Grill, 3510 S. Halsted Street in Bridgeport for 39 years, boasting his secret chili recipe is the best in Chicago, Friday, April 22, 2012 . | John H. White~Sun-Times.
Updated: June 17, 2012 8:03AM
In early 2002, some food enthusiasts I’d met online decided to get together and eat for 24 hours. As I embarked on that odyssey 10 years ago, my then-teenaged daughter asked with an eye-roll, “Going out to meet your loser Internet friends?”
Last month, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of this extreme act of culinary bravado, my food friends and I again ate from noon Friday until noon Saturday. Now, all members of LTHforum.com, the Chicago-based culinary chat-site, we started at Manny’s and pushed onward to more than two dozen restaurants, including the recently closed Ramova Grill, Pleasant House Bakery, and Gene and Georgetti’s. It was a gas (ahem).
While feasting at Joong Boo Market, I boasted to two older Korean guys, “We’re eating for 24 hours straight!”
“Why do you have to do that?” one of them wondered.
Since 2002, social networks have become commonplace. Ironically, one day after our 24-hour eating epic, I read a New York Times by Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Turkle argues that through social media, we’ve “sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”
No doubt some prefer tweeting to talking, Facebooking to speaking face-to-face.
Yet, around 3 a.m. that Saturday at Bai Cafe, a Kyrgystani cabbie joint, I looked out over tables of my online acquaintances talking — and eating — and at that moment, I had an answer to why we were doing this. Though we spend hours connecting online, we crave periods of serious and extended time together, on ground. Our virtual community is no substitute for human interaction. Rather, online chat makes us hungry for real-life interaction. Conversations begin online and continue on ground, sometimes for a 24-hour marathon discussion.
Creating a context for in-person interaction may, in fact, be the most compelling benefit of social networks.
Ten years ago, I sat at the table with people I met in online discussions. At the time, such a rendezvous seemed odd, perhaps even recklessly dangerous. In 2012, it’s no longer considered strange to meet up with people we’ve met online. It seems, in fact, to be a logical next step.
And my daughter, who no longer disparages my “loser Internet friends,” now happily uses an online dating service.
David Hammond is an Oak Park writer and contributor to WBEZ (91.5 FM) and LTHForum.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.