Monday, February 12, 2007

The Passive Imperfect #1

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.


fiona said...

Oh. It's very nice to have all of this articulated so eloquently. I will just direct my nay-saying acquaintances here next time they scorn such friendships. I often think of 84 Charing Cross Road and am cheered by the way text friendships are not a new Web 2 phenomenon, but are just made a little easier by the internet.

Anonymous said...

LL: "What do you think of that 'Lolita' book, Bunny?"
Me: "Well a friend read it and said it was excellent."
LL: "Is this a real friend? One you've met?"
Me: "Of course (I lied), it's Annabel, one of Marilyn's friends. We still keep in touch."
LL: "That's okay then. Just as long as she's not one of those wierd bloggers. They're not real people, you know!"
Me: (cough)

Never That Easy said...

For those of us who are restricted in our "real life" opportunities to build friendships, the ability to connect with people online is even more important. You've been able to discuss it beautifully here.

My "weird blogger" friends have become priceless to me, over the years. Sure, I'd love to be able to go places and meet people and all that: but just because my body can't go doesn't mean my mind can't.

Mary said...

I've been "deceived and disappointed" on several occasions. The most outstanding of these was a boyfriend I met online (one of my first five boyfriends EVER which I hope excuses my naivety). We spent ages chatting on the phone, emailing, hanging about on forums, we arranged to meet, got on well, our relationship became 'known' on the forums we hung about on and everyone was happy for us, marvellous. About 3 months after we became a couple, I got an anguished phone call at stupid o'clock in the morning. It began "I haven't been completely honest with you".

Yep, he had a long-term live-with type partner who also happened to be the mother of his child. She had 'stumbled' into his email account and was understandably not amused...

That said though, most people who I have met and become friends with online have been lovely, and those I have met in real life are for the most part now really good friends and confidantes.

Sally said...

Married ! Lovely picture of you and AJ. So happy.

Beautifully put Goldfish. The web is the true evolution of humankind's need to communicate. The web is a return to twice, or thrice, daily letter deliveries, or notes 'sent round.'

I look forward to, one day, hearing the voices, seeing the faces, and meeting with any blogging friends who are within hugging distance, or failing that, who would like to visit for tea and cake, or meet for a trundle down an accessible country lane. Those are all do-able. But also, I accept those whose wish is never ever under any circumstances to loose their blogger anonymity. I accept it, but I don't understand it.

(Blogger has requested word verification three times, sorry if this appears more than once).

seahorse said...

Absolutely, and I'm only a few weeks into this lark. It's great to feel part of something, and it's tangible in such a gentle way. Not nearly so in your face as stepping outside the front door.

Sage said...

Yes. My guy calls you all my "invisible friends" then reflexively ducks.

Shell said...

I think if someone is a liar/fake they are just that, in 3d or online. often both *wry grin*. I was touched by mary's tale but in truth feel that cad would have pulled the same tricks had they met in a pub or wherever.

There's an intimacy about ethereal connection that makes it, in some ways, more profound more quickly than a physical meeting. Exponentially, that same energy is even more vulnerable to abuse.

ahhh, relationships of any kind bewilder me and truth finds us in its own good time and space.

Interestingly, the most formative, life-saving, relationship i ever had was with one i never met ...