What is a Friend? The Real Life Versus Online Friends Debate

by Thomas Madison Web-Developer
Society has always applied degrees of friendship. This is reflected in our language. We talk about 'best friends', 'work friends', 'penpals', 'acquaintances' and other such tags, as if they are distinctions in a hierarchy. The tag of 'girlfriend' or 'boyfriend' outranks them all, as this individual is potentially a life partner.

These nuances of difference have always caused tension, but the rise of the internet has driven the debate into a new frenzy. For young people especially, cyberspace has become the place to make friends and find love. Our online interactions, with people across the world, are often more numerous and more suited to our own interests than their real life counterparts. Yet a sense of awkwardness pervades.

How Peer Pressure Demotes Online Friendships.
It was my birthday recently. My private messages and profile areas on several forums were swamped with well-wishers. I received dozens of e-mails, Tweets and other social networking nods. One friend had spent an hour in Paint creating a birthday card for me. Another wrote a long online journal entry describing over four years of our online friendship. They were only two of the people, who made me feel special that day.

Yet my mother grimaced. She was only looking at the physical cards on the windowsill and there weren't that many. It worried her. Birthdays constitute an unofficial census of friends. Those still classing themselves as such will send greetings. Counting them provides the number of your true friendships. By my reckoning, I was well loved and reasonably popular amongst a wide cross-section of the international community. By her reckoning, I barely had any friends.

This serves as a perfect illustration of how online friendships can be dismissed. Yet amongst their number were the people who invited me into their homes, when I toured their country; the gentleman who secured a job for me, after I was made redundant; the half a dozen people who comforted me, in the early hours of the morning, when a bereavement had upset me; the person who had once sent me money, via an electronic bank, to pay an urgent bill (she got it back); the lady who spends hours proof-reading everything that I write; and the person (a practicing lawyer) who had looked over a book contract, free of charge, because of our friendship in a jackpot city casino review or other online game. Yet I wasn't to consider them friends?

What is a Friend?
The Oxford English Dictionary informs us that a friend is a noun. It is 'a person (other than a relative or lover) with whom one is on terms of mutual affection; a supporter of a cause; a person on the same side in a conflict.'

Online friendships do fit the dictionary definition. Terms of mutual affection can and do exist between people known only to each other on the internet. New friendships are frequently formed between individuals supporting the same cause and joining a forum or chat group to discuss it. Unfortunately, as anyone posting side by side in a flame war may testify, internet friends can also be on the same side in a conflict.

The usual point, levelled against online friendships, is that nothing can replace physical presence. Body language accounts for much of human communication, as does shared experience. But the definition of friendship does not include immediate proximity. If it did, then any friend moving away from your hometown should be automatically struck off the Christmas card list. Also life experience occurs as long as we are alive. It doesn't stop as long as we log on and where individuals meet to interact online, that experience is shared.

What isn't a True Friendship?
The definition of 'friend' was commonly diluted long before Facebook ever added their button. In fact, it is often unashamedly applied where it's not valid. Any person who refers to their brother or sister as their 'best friend' has misused the word. A relative has a separate category, so is automatically excluded. In the same way, a friend cannot be described as 'family', however close the friendship.

It is the grey area of romance where the concept of a friend is most abused. A 'boyfriend' or 'girlfriend' may only be designated as such while the relationship isn't physical. As soon as sex becomes involved, then it has stepped outside the boundaries of friendship. The couple are now lovers. Similarly, stating that a husband or wife is 'my best friend' is also technically incorrect. All of the closeness associated with friendships should be implicit in the terms 'lover' or 'spouse' anyway.

Online friendships are not a feature of family interactions, as family members tend to know each other without having resource to a computer. As individuals meeting on the internet are not even in the same room, then they are unlikely to become lovers without first meeting in the physical world. In short, while perhaps not meaning more, a relationship with someone on the internet is a truer friendship than that formed with romantic partners or members of the family.

Is it Time to Drop the 'Online' from the Word 'Friend'?
Friendship is a precious and beautiful attribute in our lives. When we touch a mind in conversation, or smile when we see their name pop up online, or laugh together over a funny picture, or gather for comfort and advice in a crisis, or amass for a group event in pixels, then we are with friends. Wherever there is mutual affection and shared experience, there is a friendship.

Perhaps it is time to drop the distinctions, which result in peer pressured hierarchies. There are no online friends, no real life friends, no work friends, no festival friends, no pub friends, no anything else friends. There are just friends and that is great.

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About Thomas Madison Junior   Web-Developer

2 connections, 0 recommendations, 14 honor points.
Joined APSense since, February 19th, 2019, From Toronto, Canada.

Created on Feb 19th 2019 07:59. Viewed 385 times.


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