Online Friends versus Offline Friends (Real Friends?)

So, today I was thinking. I do that sometimes, you know? Most people call everyone they know online “friends” but are they really friends? I don’t think so.

I have people I’ve met offline, I know them off-line, and I socialize with them off-line. These are my “friends”, and they are to some degree or another my friends. Some are good friends, some are casual friends, some just this side of acquaintances, and a precious few are Real Friends. I may interact with them on-line by exchanging e-mails or somesuch, but they are primarily off-line friends. Some have moved away or never lived that close, but we do visit sometimes and occasionally talk via telephone.

I have some people I’ve met on-line that have become the type of friend I mentioned in the above paragraph. I say this because a reasonable amount of interaction with them is off-line. They belong in that same group. In fact, these friends may be better friends than those I’ve met off-line (TO, PJ, JM). Nowadays, I really try not to allow online friends to become offline friends because, frankly, there are too many mental cases out there. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened (WJM being the most recent). Oddly, when these types of friendships collapse (and like all friendships, sometimes they collapse instead of drift away) they seem to hurt more.

Then we have the online friends. Some of them I’ve even met once or twice, but we don’t have that social interaction. I have lots of these folks — more than half on Usenet or on various message boards. They don’t know too much about me (and even that is possibly more than I’m comfortable with) and I don’t know too much about them. What we really are is acquaintances. What we have is not really friendship. But the word “friend” is bandied about quite readily, even though it’s simply inaccurate. I’d list some examples but there isn’t space and invariably someone’s feelings would be hurt so there’s no point.

There are some on-line friends I’d like to say I’m not acquaintances is with (RB, RF, for instance) because I really feel like I am a part of their lives. We exchange holiday cards through the mail (as opposed to the grotesquely impersonal digital variety.) If they wanted to come to my home, I’d certainly invite them. If they asked me a favour, I’d certainly consider helping them much as I’d help any casual friend. I call these people “friends” and I mean it. It’s hard for me to believe it on some level because I’ve convinced myself that these folks aren’t real friends, but sometimes they are.

I’ve been toying with posting a edited version of a longish essay about friendship I once wrote here. Would anyone actually want to read it?

This is where I’d normally make a point, but I’m not going to type it. Make your own conclusions — post a comment if you’d like. Link here and share this with your ‘friends’ — maybe at some point I will edit this post and make the final statement I had.

Leave a Reply