For the last ten years, the vast majority of my important relationships have been forged in text. Ten years ago, this was very difficult for people to understand. How could I feel I knew someone who I had never met, let alone love them as a friend? At that time there was little anxiety about the sinister potential of the Internet, but there was an attitude that internet friends could only be one step up from imaginary friends, in whom it was rather unhealthy to invest any time or emotion.
I used to feel rather embarrassed about it. I used to make up stories about where I really had met this or that friend to make our introduction – and therefore our friendship – seem legitimate. But this was the silly thing; I have a passive social life, all my relationships are conducted on-line or on the telephone except for the occasional meeting because I am ill, can’t get out much and don't have a lot of energy for dealing with people in person. The only difference between my real friends and my internet friends is how we happened to meet. There is no differentiation; a friend is a friend is a friend and I value every one I have.
In fact, people I meet on-line have an advantage over most people I meet in person because they are already adept at communicating with someone who is physically absent; most working people have friends in their colleagues or people they meet at pubs or in clubs they belong to; many folks see their friends on a regular basis whether they want to or not, little thought or effort required. What is more, the process of getting to know a person on-line is generally much easier; you read blog entries and forum posts and you can learn a lot about what a person is like without having to interact with them at all.
Naturally, I have met many internet friends in person (began to count but gave up at three dozen), stayed in their homes, had them stay with me, gone on holiday with them and even married one of them. Whether through luck or good judgement, I have thus far never been deceived or disappointed. On the contrary; people - all people - are better in person. There is a certain fulfilment in face-to-face contact which cannot be obtained through text. It is better to be with people, to hear their voices, to see their smiles. Much better. Just not always possible.