I tried to shout out the site in this post. Hopefully it brings a few more thoughtful individuals to the community!
Great article. I definitely agree. Some of my closest friends in middle school were the friends I made on a Neopets forum board (despite constant warnings that everyone on the internet was a child predator back then).
I think something that attributes to the growth of digital friendships is that they're more convenient. For example, at this moment, I'm writing this comment while I'm at work.. It'll only take a few minutes, and after I'm done with it, I'll be right back to work. But physical friends require more attention. Often, you have to make an effort to meet up with them and make plans, and often those interactions last for a longer period of time. Friends made on the internet are only ever a few clicks away.
I think about this and have discussed it quite a bit with people, and there are people in both camps. I'm the "the only real friends you have are the people you are friends with in real life and hang out with in real life", where others are in the other camp of "Just because I'm friends with someone online only doesn't mean it's any less of a friendship", but I beg to differ with the second camp. People who play video games like WoW, will always talk about "their friends" and how "social" it is, yet they don't actually meet or hang out with the majority of those friends in real life. Those friends aren't going to be in your wedding, they aren't going to be out drinking with you when you get that big promotion at work, they won't be at your funeral, and they certainly aren't going to help you move a couch.
But then the counter argument is always, "do those things really matter"? For me, yes they do, because interacting with them through my ups and downs in life are what makes my friends my actual friends. The people I only talk to on Facebook, even if we used to be friends years ago, wouldn't really be considered my friends now. Nor do I think, no insult intended, that anyone here is my "real" friend. Sure I like people I come across in online communities, and I consider them "online buddies" or whatever, but none of us who only know each other through Hubski really know anything about the other person. And honestly, we might not even really like hanging out with each other if we were to actually meet.
Real life friends are on an entirely different level than online relationships, and in my humble opinion I believe people who rely on online relationships for friendship are fooling themselves into thinking they are one and the same as real life physical friendships. A good subtitute in lack of actual friends, but definitely not a good replacement for actual friends.
Since the age of 13 I've had friends who are purely online, living across the country. They've been as close to me as meatspace friends - in many ways closer. Often we started out as forum buddies, or gaming friends, but our interests drifted from those things - you can only hang out in online games for so long. But we remained friends beyond those things. Even when we had almost no common interests, we remained close, and even helped each other out through serious times in our lives - breakups, failures in school, depression, friends joining the military - we would get pissed at each other and work out our issues, we would talk about serious and not-serious things plenty, through IM or over voice primarily. I know for a fact that at least two of these friends had no accessible friends offline for periods of their lives and I suspect that we were mutually part of those <4 "close confidants" mentioned.
And then we all fell off the face of the earth to each other for the most part, and it's been about a year since I've spoken to any of them for more than 5 minute "hey what's up" (and one of them actively removed himself from being reachable).
All of my offline friends, from school for example, have in a big way become online friends since graduation, too. It's been hard to see each other for more than maybe an evening out if we're very lucky. What would people in the "only real friends are people you are with in real life" say to that? Is it that we knew each other in the flesh first that makes us "real" friends? Or does the fact that our relationships are contained almost wholly in cyberspace mean that we are precluded from being "real" friends? If I had met up away-from-keyboard with one of my online friends does that mean they graduate to "real"? Do I have to do it once? Twice? 10 times?
The point is, I think the line between what you might consider "real" and online friends is hazy. Friend groups offline break up all the time for various reasons, and while I concede it's a lot easier for online groups, I don't see why that inherently makes them any less real for the period in which they exist. You can still experience the same support, conversation, and stimulation from people even if they are hundreds of miles away - I know this from experience. A friendship can be whatever you make of it, no matter what the situation is.
- Since the age of 13 I've had friends who are purely online, living across the country. They've been as close to me as meatspace friends - in many ways closer.
Don't get me wrong, I've been there too, and the only reason I'm not anymore is because I really don't game much anymore. I was a huge gamer from my early teenage years through early twenty somethings. I had friends in guilds, and clans from WoW and Counter-Strike that I've never met that I consider close, and I still talk to them ocassionally. But if for some reason we stopped talking, it wouldn't be nearly as devastating as if my close personal "meatspace" friends did the same. Because we simply share that much more of our lives, and it takes a lot more effort to keep up an in-person friendship than it does an online one, and to ME, it has a much bigger impact on the friendship.
- If I had met up away-from-keyboard with one of my online friends does that mean they graduate to "real"? Do I have to do it once? Twice? 10 times?
That's not what I was implying, and that part would be entirely personal and subjective to you. So perhaps I was a little harsh or not informative enough about my opinions in my first post. I was just saying real life friends are better in my opinion, not "the only option". I actually played Counter-Strike with a guy for 3 years, and one summer he decided to come visit us, as we had a handful of members here in Minnesota. He flew in, we hung out, and within a year he actually moved in with me and some buddies in a house we were renting. In later years I was actually a groomsmen in that guys wedding when he got married. He still lives here in MN with his wife, and he will be a part of my wedding this fall. So don't get me wrong, I'm not "anti online friend", but my relationship with him was far more rewarding and eventful after he moved here with us and it became a "meatspace" friendship. I was physically there to take him out when he had rough times with girls, I was there to support him in his wedding, we were there to take him out for beers when he was low on cash, and we threw parties together where he met his wife. So there are some major differences there... that's all I was trying to say. So sure he was once an online-only friend, and how long it takes to "graduate" to real life friend is pretty much when you meet. It's not a bar or stat they have to meet, it just opens up different aspects of the friendship when you meet, and I just feel those "real life" aspects can be more rewarding than an online only relationship. So sure I get online friends are still friends, but I'd be lying to myself if I said I thought that relationship meant more to me BEFORE I started hanging out with him in real life. He became less of an online friend, and more of an actual part of my life. To me, that's a big difference.
For Context, I also met about 5 different people from my WoW guild who came to visit, as most of us lived here in Minnesota, so the guys that didn't would come stay with me when we threw big parties, and I would always invite them and try to get them to come out (even bought two of them plane tickets because they said money was the only issue). One of them, in addition to the guy I already mentioned, also met his now wife at one of my parties back in 2006. And again, we formed a much stronger friendship once he was around here. Again, we were online friends first, and all that it took to become real life friends was simply meeting. It didn't take two times, or ten times, or anything tolabel it, it really only takes once to increase that bond of friendship you already have with someone you only know online. And when you continue to hang out with them it just solidifies.
So sorry again if I offended. I wasn't trying to make a RealFriend vs. OnlineFriends argument. I was just explaining the differences, and that I personally would take one close real life friend, over 10 online-only friendships any day of the week. Online friendships aren't bad, I just don't find them as rewarding as a real life in-person friendship. Online friends are definitely true friendships, I just think that friendships become stronger when you hang out in-person. Anyone who has met online friends and spent a lot of time with them after transitioning from an online friendship to an in-person friendship would probably agree. I don't know anyone who would say "Oh I wish we were online only friends again!"
Hopefully that makes a little more sense and makes me look less like a dick. :(
My tone probably came off harsher than it needed to - I understand your point of view and I don't think you were being a dick. I just wanted to point out that people have lots of different experiences with "internet friends" and that mine was overall pretty positive. I also recognize that there's a difference between the nature of online and offline friendship, for sure. When you're there in the flesh it's easier to be involved and they enter your thoughts more by virtue of being there and being around all your other friends and groups in person.
I guess what I really mean to say is that, there are differences in the relationships, but I'm of the group that says that difference isn't necessarily worse or less valuable. Close friendships can spawn from any time, from anywhere there are two or more people interacting. I think of it like this - friendship is when two or more minds reach out to each other with the tools available to them. They can only ever interact with each other from behind layers of tools - body language and spoken language being the traditional mediums for expression. Adding a digital component, I don't think, makes that any different - it's merely another medium, another layer through which your mind contacts another person's. I'm also strongly non-traditionalist. I don't think that being there in person for certain events or ceremonies inherently makes one a better friend - what counts is the expression of thinking about that person and caring about their life's events. If you have a friend who is putting on a show or playing in a big game, then it's great to be there, but I also don't think that simply having your body there makes you a better friend - its the expression that you care what they do, and you want them to succeed. While I grant that it's easier to do in many ways when you're face to face, I'd say that the capacity for care and friendship and even love online is there. You (the collective 'you', anyone involved in the relationship) just have to try a little harder to reach it.
Well this depends on the context of the friendship. I've met people on Hubski (thenewgreen, b_b, lil) that have really helped me. In fact, they have been more dependable and reliable and friendly than many people in my real life. There is no reason why those friendships are less important or meaningful than friendships I've made in physical communities. Also, as thenewgreen said, we would hang out in real life if it was possible (and I'm sure it will happen in the future). In fact, geographic barriers are the only reason Hubski meet ups don't happen more frequently. lil and I happen to be at the same university and she was kind enough to meet up for coffee on two occasions to help me with my writing. So you can't generalize and think that all friendships that start online are forever destined to stay there.
Also, you are invited to my funeral (if I die, which I won't).
In fact I was recently out for beers with one of my roommates work friends and I was bored to death. I was just thinking in my head how much more fun I would be having if I was at a Hubski meet up.
- In fact I was recently out for beers with one of my roommates work friends and I was bored to death. I was just thinking in my head how much more fun I would be having if I was at a Hubski meet up.
I was comparing online friends to in-person friends, not online friends to random people that annoy you in-person. There's a big difference. I was assuming you are friends with the people online AND in person for the comparison. A random that you don't like is NOT better than an online friend and I agree. I'd rather talk to people like you than 95% of the people I work with for example. :)
I heartily agree that there needn't be a clear line drawn between digital and non-digital interactions. If anything, digital spaces have allowed us to create new types of interactions that serve specific purposes. We have a long history of designing non-digital spaces around specific types on interactions, and I don't see those that we have online as intrinsically limited or less genuine. In fact, as b_b mentions the ability to say something and let it stand creates new opportunities.
Even text messaging brings the ability to engage a conversation with someone without first greeting them, or asking them how their day is going.
If anything, our world of social interactions is becoming enriched. Of course there will be misadventures with new modes and technologies, but in the end, the most fulfilling platforms will prevail.
- If anything, our world of social interactions is becoming enriched. Of course there will be misadventures with new modes and technologies, but in the end, the most fulfilling platforms will prevail.
A beautifully Darwinian perspective on the intersection between technological and social evolution. Love it.
- When social networks emerged they functioned to connect us with people we already knew in real life. These networks may have provided the illusion that we were being more social, but in reality they were simply providing us with a stage to focus on ourselves in the presence of other people.
As of yet though, there is no substitution for hanging out in person. There aren't many things I would enjoy more than being able to have a big Hubski party with all of us in attendance. -Someday.... someday.
Nice piece Cadell, thanks for the "shout out". I do think we need to change our prejudice against friendships made and sustained online.
No problem. And I agree that there is no substitute for hanging out in person. I think in order to break down the current prejudice against friendships made and sustained online is to realize that we shouldn't dichotomize such friendships. Just because a friendship or partnership started in a digital community does not mean the friendship is forever relegated to the digital world. Of course, we are at a stage in development where most digital friendships are difficult to bring into physical communities due to transportation barriers. But those should be broken down this century as well. I think we will see a complete blurring of the lines between physical/digital communities.
I think one thing people like about online communities is that everyone is approachable. If you go into a coffee shop and start chatting with a stranger it could get weird. Online, you can put your opinion or comment out there and others are free to engage you, and vice versa. It gives individuals who might not be comfortable conversing in social situations the chance to talk to lots of people about lots of topics. I'm not sure its a great surrogate for 'real' friends (I don't think anyone is going to take their laptop to the movies with them), but at least its an outlet to say what's on your mind and know that someone is listening.
Completely agree b_b, I don't think digital communities are surrogates for physical communities. However, I do feel that digital communities allow me to connect with more people and make friendships that I would otherwise never have made. And the key is in the point you brought up about being more approachable in an online community. I could never well be sitting in a coffee shop with people that I would get along with, but it would be socially inappropriate for me to approach them and find out. I think this has something to do with our current mismatch between the social system we evolved in and our current social system. For most of our history we lived in bands of 200 individuals and we knew everyone. In that world talking to someone you didn't know would actually have been dangerous. Now of course that isn't the case but we still behave as if it is. Digital communities may be solving that problem. Long-term (50-100 years out), I can't help but think that digital communities will make our entire species one big band.
The worst kind of lowest common denominator opinion, filled with "I" statements, to follow. Consider yourself warned...
I'm 'good at' being social, though I'd probably rate as an introvert. It's easy for me to make friends of strangers and I'm generally well behaved. I can relate to people from all walks of life with relative ease and consider myself a curious listener, more prone to follow up on what someone else says in conversation with a question than a personal anecdote.
I'm terrible at making friends online. I've done it, but it's primarily been local people I can actually interact with. I'm of the mind that what works in personal, live interaction doesn't online, and vice versa. The kinds of conversations we have with other human beings in the flesh - even the most provocative and interesting conversations, think of your favorite story from an interesting person on a podcast in which two or more people are having a chat - can be written off with a tl;dr, cool story, bro. Conversely, a lot of the more lengthy, involved, perfectly executed posts in a comments thread - even on hubski - would come off as boring, obstinate, and weird in person.
I think I'm wasting a lot of time/space saying the same thing others have said in the thread, but from the perspective of someone who's actually rather distressed about it all. Hubski's been a bit of an experiment for me because, like the author of this piece (you), I didn't get involved in reddit in any meaningful way and never cared for digg. The only online groups I've joined have been locally focused with a shared interest - Chicago music, Chicago sports, etc. - and from there I have made friends but always preferred more direct modes of contact, beginning at face-to-face and extending no further than facebook or email.