Thursday, 28 July 2016

On The Nature Of Real Life & Online Friendships

Having just had my 40th birthday, I was thinking about the friends I’ve had in life. They can be divided roughly into three groups:

Group 1: Childhood and teenage years (including school)

Group 2: Post-teen until the present day

Group 3: Internet friends

Maybe I’m not the most typical example, because I go out socialising less frequently than the average person, but in the present day just about everyone I’d call a friend belongs in either group 2 or group 3. I have not retained any of my friends from group 1, except one or two who I’ve caught up with online who are now group 3 friends.

All my closest real life friends are in group 2, and I love them all dearly. But the people I spend most time interacting with are those in group 3, my Internet friends. That’s in part because the online world has become (for many of us) such a prominent medium of interaction, but also because the Internet brings to our lives interesting, intelligent, diverse, curious and imaginative minds all over the world that we probably wouldn't otherwise meet.

The Internet also enables conversations to take shape in a more a la carte way. If at a particular time no one in your pub crowd wants to talk about event horizons, epigenetics, the theories of Thomas Malthus or the music of David Bowie, then starting conversations about those things will be met with lukewarm reaction. Whereas online, you can just throw these things out there, and anyone who wants to join conversations will do so, and anyone that does not can sit out.

Real life friends give you the opportunity to look into each other's eyes, which is one of the most powerful things two people can do. But there's this strange aspect to it, where there are things you may well tell a complete stranger (embarrassing things or medical things perhaps) that you wouldn't necessarily tell a close friend, while at the same time there are special things you have with close friends that you only have with those friends. Perhaps that's a little part of what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he once remarked that "A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature".
A wife is a man's best friend