I find that in the last few years I have made friends, yes friends, a few of them actually quite close and valued … online. These are people I’ve never met in person or spoken with on the phone. This is not to mention the even more numerous casual friends and acquaintances I have in my relatively modest online circle.
Some have objection to my use of the word friend for such relationships, while I know some people who will not even "friend" someone on Facebook or the equivalent on other social media if he does not know them in person. Have the internet and social media radically changed the nature of friendships and relationships, and is this a positive change?
Meeting new people who you can connect with and relate to, is a great experience. The only ever looming threat is online stalkers and such. Which makes a great thing for people who have problems talking to people in person or relating feelings. I also believe that it makes people more open to others.
Facebook, for example, turned "friend" into a verb, and collecting them, into a competition for some. It’s those who can no longer look up from their virtual life to hold eye contact with their 3D friends for more than a couple of annoyed seconds that worry me. There is something strange about online friendships, especially if you can take advantage of having no one to impress, nothing to hide, and no reasons to lie … a rarity in our real life relationships.
As the internet and connectedness brings us all closer together, and we can hashtag and tag events a world away and figuratively "be there" to experience, it makes the world smaller, it tears down barriers, it allows us to support and help and provide for those that might not have otherwise. As long as these next few generations of people who grow up in a world where the difference between nations is measured in micro-seconds of ping responses, and not months-long sea voyages, perhaps they will see us as we are, one species of humans, and not a checker-board of competing colors and beliefs.
If that occurs, and our descendants are bound by a global social framework, yes, our next Shakespeare might script games for the PS10, but c’est la vie, and if the result is a world of one people who strive only to better everything for everyone, perhaps it will be worth it.
I find the friends I make online I have far more in common with. The conversations are far more stimulating mentally. When my real friends cannot give me the same mental stimulation I start to resent and alienate them. I find myself sometimes preferring to sit on Facebook, Twitter, or internet forum as opposed to spending time with my online friends. For me this is problematic.
There are also people who argue that the internet is turning friendship itself into a commodity and that people are replacing interpersonal relationships with the consumption of a product. Some of them take it even further and insist that sites like Facebook end up depressing people and making them lonely and isolated.
They say people get depressed when a friend posts photos of their awesome life, but the friend is only selecting certain parts of their life to share to make their life seem more awesome than it really is. The line of thinking is that we’re not sharing our real lives and our thoughts with our friends but sharing carefully tailored thoughts and snapshots--a carefully constructed illusion of life--with illusory friends and this disconnect with reality makes people feel lonely and isolated.
A lot of mental traps we can fall into. If building friendships online is a crutch because someone wants to escape reality, that’s a different story. That would make the friendship / "online life" an illusion / fantasy. Especially if the friendships is built on lies to make them look impressive, exciting, successful, or generally what they are not. Getting jealous or envious of people life online should be a wake-up call to get back to reality. My Facebook have a lot of my family members and close friends, so lying and pretending could never work for me. Online for me is like the phone but cheaper when I consider where they live around the world.
In reality your friends are who they are and sometimes it is that diversity that makes the relationships special. But online you can choose to meet people that think exactly like you, exposed to the same similarity. It becomes very addicting. But you need that physical interaction. It is easy to feel alone and depressed when you turn off the computer. Leaving work and instead of heading to the local cafe to hang with your friends, you are rush in route home to log on back to the internet.