what you say is SO true!
I am - or used to be - one of those introverts.
Most of my high school and University teachers might not even remember me. I was that students that sits quietly and listens to, digesting the information for myself. I wasn't the brave one. I liked to have time to think and then once you knew the time was up and I had no time to put my ideas across. Also maybe because Ia m a little bit shyer in face to face situations.
The online world has made me a better person I think. I am now able to give more of myself. I trust myself more as here (online) I am put on the constant test. The only way to prove that I am interested in these topics and that I have an opinion about it them is to share my opinions with you all.
Since most of the interactions online are asynchronous it gives me time to consider and ponder about what I want to say - it doesn't mean I will always come up with something smart! - but It means I have been able to develop ways to trust me enough to interact . It has has its reflections on my face to face behavior as well, as the online interactions have been really good practices.
The other thing that you also mentioned and that I totally agree with is the fact that I consider my virtual friends to be true friends. In many cases the interactions and interaction online become even stronger than many of the acquaintances I make only face to face. And I also think that is because online people trust themselves more to give more of themselves, and also because online people have more time to reflect about what they say and thus show the better side of them more often.
Christina, I know what you mean about needing time to process discussion topics and then reply. I think this phenomena is something different from the lurker phenomena (lurkers being another group of nameless, faceless students in a class), and I am now starting to wonder if there has been any research in this area. I find myself drawn to research in areas where I have a direct connection to the topic.
Tell me, as you mentioned you consider your virtual friends to be true friends, do you find yourself communicating with them outside of the initial point of contact? In other words, I do speak with a few SCoPE people outside SCoPE, but not too often in Facebook or Twitter. Vice-versa as well.