I have a lot of friends that I know from the Internet. Some I’ve met IRL (in real life) and some I just know in an abstract way from Twitter, Facebook, and forums that I’ve been involved in. My Internet friends are a source of entertainment and amusement to me. I’ve spent many hours chatting away with people I will probably never meet, people who live all over the world, and yet whom I know a lot about.
In my travels I have met some of my Internet friends in person, and interestingly, I’ve found them to be pretty much the same as they are online. I wonder if the idea that people can be anything or anyone they choose online might be a bit of a myth. It seems to me that, given the chance to be anyone they want, most people end up just being themselves
And Internet friendship, just like any other relationships, are complicated. In many ways, some of my online friends know me better than those who live around me. Online, the space between me and them creates a distance that can be both a positive and a negative thing. For sure, there is a disconnection online that comes from a lack of physical proximity, but that lack of face-to-face, eye-to-eye has also meant that sometimes I have shared thoughts and feelings that I might not otherwise. It’s an interesting dynamic.
The thing about Internet friendships that surprises me the most is how easy it is to disengage with someone online. Decided you don’t like someone anymore? No problem. A few mouse-clicks later you never need to see or hear them again. I’ve done this myself to others, and others have done it to me. Sometimes it’s as hard emotionally as breaking up with a RL friend, and other times it really is just as simple as ‘you’re annoying me, goodbye’. Sometimes it makes me sad that it’s so easy.
But mostly I like the duality of my online-offline life. With the growing popularity of Facebook and Twitter, the boundaries of these are becoming more and more blurry. It used to be that I had online friends, and offline RL friends who were different sets of people. And now…you reading this might well be both!