Via the Internet Time Blog I found www.pikipimp.com where you can play with your pictures. I decided to turn myself into a man (wasn't very hard) because some people who meet me online without seeing my picture, think I'm a man (the name Joitske is a strange name anyhow even in the Netherlands, could go for a man and woman). Somehow it feels like a compliment :).
Since I meet people online without knowing them face-to-face (or even without seeing their pictures) I am intrigued by how the experience changes when you do meet them. I had online exchanges without picture, where the picture is almost shockingly weird. Unconsciously, you do seem to create some sort of image (never really consciously). In some cases, I had online exchanges and when meeting the person, the person was different from my expectations. Either taking up more space (more dominant?) or on the contrary less space (softer?) than in my online experiences. Discovering that a person was from Jamaica with rasta hair seemed less distracting than finding out that her appearance was very gentle and easy-going (unlike the picture I had formed in my mind based upon the online communication).
Working online with pictures helps in my opinion, to form a completer idea of a person, but even when you are used to the pictures the face-to-face experience may be different. It takes some time to adjust to this 'new picture'. In one case, it was as simple as assuming that the person was very young since she was studying, whereas she was much older.
So it seems I have stereotypes at work in both cases. Sometimes it is argued that online communication is more straightforward because we are not distracted by physical clues, I wonder actually whether this is true. I think even online we do bring our own prejudices and do judge people from their communication, based on our previous experiences. A face-to-face experience may actually help to understand a person and his/her way of communicating better. What I do really appreciate online is that there is almost unlimited space. Face-to-face meeting are so time-limited that a lot of things people could say remain unspoken.