What’s the difference between offline friends and online “friends”?
(If you answered that online friends are ones you made online, you get 10 Smartass points. Proceed directly to the university nearest you and sign up as a philosophy major with said points.)
Sure, it’s a Web1.0 type of question, but I think in the digital world we live in, it’s become an even more pressing question. We now have so many ways to connect with people we’ve never physically met, and our connectedness gets tighter and tighter every day.
Yet many people think there’s still some qualitative difference between the types of friendships such that offline friends get the status of true friends and online ones are “friends,” with the quotation signifying something like people we’ve met online, talked to, and like – but not to be confused with friends sans quotations.
Here’s the deal, though: through blogging, I’ve met more people that I actually like than I generally do in the real world. It’s also much easier for me to get to know people online than off – you don’t have to worry with sometimes-inhibiting social factors like gender, status, and race.
But there’s also the weird feature with online “friends” that I know more about them and less about them at the same time. I can tell you how old their kids are, what their kids like, what their favorite type of music is, what they’re most scared of, and all sorts of very personal facts – yet I don’t know what they’re kids’ names are or whether the name they use is actually their real one.
It’s strange, really – we expose more of our inner selves through online relationships at the same time that we hide more of outer selves.
I find this interesting because it’s the exact opposite of what we do in offline relationships.
I was reading an offline friend’s Facebook page the other day and he mentioned some things that he liked and disliked. I’ve known this guy for thirteen years and I didn’t know some of the stuff – and it was pretty basic stuff that should’ve come up in the course of our friendship. That happens to me quite often, and I don’t spend much time crawling around on Facebook and Myspace.
Something else to consider for those with blogging “friends”: consider how much time per week we spend reading each other’s writing. Sure, a lot of the stuff can be very impersonal – my blog being no different – but in some ways those are conversations that we are a part of sometimes on a daily basis. I don’t talk to my offline friends on a daily, or sometimes weekly, basis – yet I leave comments and shoot emails to my online friends everyday.
I should note that one of the things that makes blogging “friends” so nice is that they are dealing with the same issues and you don’t have to introduce them to the blogosphere at the same time you’re talking about something you’re thinking about. They get it because they’re doing it – so you can get down to the meat of the conversation without trying to explain what RSS is so that they understand why RSS subscribers matter.
My point: many of us are spending more time and attention on our online “friends” than our offline friends. From one perspective, that would seem to make their friendship more important to us than offline friendships.
Yet, at the same time, most of us place more weight on the offline friendships, and they still remain friends sans quotations.
For many of us, this issue is not merely an academic point any more. The online world is a critical part of our reality – and part of that reality has a very social component. Our lives are enriched by people we have never, and likely will never, physically meet – yet they still get second-class status as far as the type of relationship we have with them goes.
Is it time to drop the quotations? Is it time to stop the favoring of physical friendships over the non-physical ones?
(The worry here, of course, is that the people reading this blog have a much higher likelihood of saying “Yes” because they are already on the blogosphere. But consider what the answer would be if you were answering someone who wasn’t already part of the choir.)
Photo Credit: Rainfalls