Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Online Friends Are Real Friends

I have had internet access since 1995. In that time I have made many friends online, most of whom I have never met in person. Many of these friends number among my very closest friends, among them the dearest friend I have ever had. Many of my friends, both those I have met in person and those I have met online, have had similar experiences. Despite this, there are those who will insist that online friends are not "real friends." Indeed, there is even the phrase "real life friends," which seems to say that what occurs online somehow is not real.

Given the World Wide Web has existed for nearly 28 years, I am not sure why some people have this attitude that online friends are not real friends or, at the very least, are somehow lesser in quality than people one meets in person. Making friends online can go well beyond simply chatting with people on Facebook or Twitter. Today there is no shortage of video chat software, from Skype to Zoom. Some of my online friends have my phone number and we have texted and talked on the phone. There are several different ways one can bond with friends one has made online. And often this bonding can be every bit as strong as the bonding one has with those friends they have met in person.

Now I do realize it is fully possible for someone online to pretend to be someone or something they are not. There is the phenomenon of catfishing, whereby someone creates a fake persona online, whether for attention or some more nefarious ends. And I have had the sad experience of befriending people online, only to learn later they are not what they initially appeared to be. In one case I knew someone for a year before they turned on me, something that took me by surprise. That having been said, I have had this happen offline with people I have met in person as well. In fact, I daresay it has happened many more times to me with people I have met in person than it has people I have met online. There are always going to be those insincere or unscrupulous people who will behave nicely when they want something from an individual and then turn on that individual when they are through with them.

Fortunately, in my experience, such people are the exception to the rule. It seems to me that most people behave the same online as they do offline. I think most people online are honest about who and what they are. Over the years I have gotten to meet friends I have made online and in each case they behave the same offline as they do online. What is more, we did not suddenly become friends because we met in person. Quite simply, we were already friends and behaved as such.

For those not willing to take my word for it, a study conducted by the University of California Irvine in 2017 revealed that online friendships are just as meaningful as face-to-face friendships for teens.  There is no reason to assume that the same is not true for many adults. Ultimately I don't think the means through which people connect (online vs. in person) is nearly is as important is as how strong that connection is.

As I said earlier, I won't pretend to understand why some people think online friends are not real friends or think that online friends are somehow lesser in quality than those one has met in person. Maybe they haven't spent that much time online or maybe they just never "clicked" with someone online. That having been said, for many of us our online friendships are every bit as real and every bit as meaningful as our face-to-face friendships. To say, "Too bad you never met so-and-so in person" of someone's online friend is then not only rude, but wholly unwarranted and can be downright cruel. For years now people have connected through multiple platforms beyond in person, through the telephone, through ham radio, and now through the internet. It is not the means through which two people connect that is important. It is the fact that they connected at all and how strong that connection is that is important.


Caftan Woman said...

Hear, hear!

Laura said...

Well said. I treasure my online friends (some go back 29 years now, as I was first online in 1992) and have been fortunate to meet many of them in person.

Best wishes,