Living Online: Are Your Virtual Friends Important to You?

BlogHer Original Post

I love my computer because my friends live in itThis image came to me from Imagine What I'm Leaving Out. It hit her desktop via email, and I can't find anyone to credit for it. But it perfectly illustrates the concept of finding emotional connection and satisfaction from online relationships.

There is a counter current of dissatisfaction with online relationships taking the place of real life interaction. You see in reflected in things like the Appleby's restaurant ads where the voice of Wanda Sykes speaks from an apple urging people to "get it together, baby." Or in this Opus comic from Jan. 27, 2008. These complaints that virtual reality is less satisfactory than real life don't change the inherent satisfaction one's gets from online relationships. In the virtual world, there's always someone there who wants to discuss any topic you might want to discuss, no matter how obscure.

As long as humans have been able to read and write, we have communicated with each other by reading and writing. The Internet removes the middle layer of that interaction and makes it a direct contact between readers and writers. Now we have a proliferation of means to tweet, chat, comment, play games, blog, podcast, and join listservs of interest to enable that direct read/write connection. Online relationships have become part of our emotional landscape.

Many bloggers cherish the online relationships they've built up. People feel connected and supported by like-minded online friends. Often online friendships turn into real life friendships that form with fast-forward speed, because the people involved already feel as if they know each other.

Punditmom describes her journey into blogging and why finding online relationships made the journey easier.

I was afraid that was what the blogosphere would be be like -- a place of big names and then the rest of us.

I didn't expect to make real friends along the way. Friends I wish I would have had in junior high school.

But I did. I met people in cyberspace, and then met them in person, and found out that making friends -- really good friends -- could be easy-peasy. Somehow, we found each other -- kindred spirits who connected easily and found that conversation could go on for hours (with or without wine) because we had more on common than we thought -- kids, jobs, spouses, bad TV. Things that connect us more than divide us.

And that makes life really good. And tonight, I'm happy for that. Because that makes me understand that I'm not alone on this journey. There are others who I have more in common with than I ever could have imagined. And spending time with them and connecting in person and confirming what I suspected through cyberspace communications makes me happy.

Ronni Bennett at Time Goes By describes why elderbloggers find such satisfaction in forming online relationships.

As people get older, their social worlds can shrink. Children and grandchildren may live thousands of miles away. In retirement, there is no longer the daily interaction with colleagues, nor the easy opportunity for making new friends at work. Old friends and relatives die. And sometimes, mobility issues keep elders from getting out and about as easily or frequently as in the past.

And although it is a new phenomenon, the friendships forged through blogging become as important, close and caring as with our in-person friends.

At Home and Veggie Blog, Vegiemama counts the "Things I Like Today."

My online friends. All of them. July 97 moms, my hsing friends, you're all my support line. I know you're there when I need you and I hope I can be as good of a friend to you, as you've been to me.

After a long period of exchanges with an online friend, a level of trust develops. People meet up in real life with a sense of knowing each other and a sense of what the other person is like that creates the willingness to connect in real life. At Backup Brain, in the post Nice Place, Good People, We Must be in Wellington, we hear the story of how an online friend from New Zealand (Miraz Jordan) squired visitors Tom Negrino and Dori Smith about her home city.

On Halloween, we spent the day in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. Rather than do some tour arranged by the cruise line, we spent the day with the fabulous Miraz, who lives here. She thoughtfully arranged the Dori and Tom 2006 Tour Itinerary.

We had a great day in Wellington, and big thanks to Miraz.

And speaking of Miraz, she has an article in Groupings that talks about the online relationships that are forming around the use of Twitter. She starts by comparing Twitter to early implementations of the telephone, which were derided as a technology good only for idle gossip.

Now we know that sometimes that ‘idle gossip’ is the lifeline that can help those who are housebound and isolated, and that the phone is an invaluable business tool.

Similarly with Twitter, which is another, increasingly popular, communications tool.

Miraz also talked about how Twitter is used to spread news quickly, and commented,

I’m not convinced that ‘news’ in itself is such an important thing, but I see two differences from traditional TV, radio or newspaper news headlines:

1. Anyone who can access the Internet can use Twitter. That means that real people who are experiencing events can give an immediate and direct account of what’s going on. We don’t need to rely on journalists deciding whether or not we’re important, mangling the names, the events, the activities, filtering our words. We the public have direct access to the rest of the world. We can also directly receive immediate feedback and commentary.
2. The ‘news’ is generally about someone else somewhere else. Twitter gives a real voice to real people, to our friends, family and acquaintance. It’s very specific.

I'm a long time member of the listserv where Dori and Miraz got acquainted and have been interacting with the members there for several years. After so many years of seeing how people react to questions, how they answer questions, how they agree or disagree with each other, you develop a feeling for the kind of person you're dealing with. Recently another member of that list, who is also a Virginia, told me she'd be visiting in my town. We immediately made plans to meet for a meal and I offered to pick her up at the airport. I'm really looking forward to it and know that we will have a good time talking and being together.

Kay_bear52 can't be enthusiastic enough about her online friends at TallyScrapper.

I think online friends have to be my bestest friends ever! Seriously.

They listen to you...love you for who you are...know your likes and dislikes. Just gotta love them.

Joy Des Jardins at Joy of Six describes herself as a "connector" and explains how online relationships with bloggers have changed her world. She mentions her daughter, whose name is pretty well known in the BlogHer community and who must have caught the "connector" gene from her mom.

I’m simply a connector and love to hear and tell life’s stories. So simple isn’t it? I’ve been involved with the blogosphere since my daughter entered it in the fall of 2004. Now, I’m an addict...and need my fix every day. So many wonderful bloggers out there...it’s become a whole new world to me where I have found writing from the heart is a beautiful thing.

At Apartment 2024 Marisa tells about making the connection to online friends in real life. She begins with her foray into blogging in 2004.

One blog I stumbled across way back then was Beth. I was pulled in by her writing and the way in which she shared of her life. I soon started leaving comments on some of her posts and we became online friends, after a fashion. Her blogging community had several other members that intrigued me and soon I was following Craige (her site seems to be down) and Jen.

These days we all follow each other, and I’ve joined them on a fantastic online discussion group (with a bunch of other folks) where everyone offers up tidbits about their lives, their unique interior quirks and other queries and quandries. And tonight, I met all three of them.

You see, I’m in New York for the next couple of days for the AWP conference, and when I knew I was coming to town, I asked them if they wanted to get together. We met up in the West Village and after our first restaurant appeared too busy, we found a place that would offer a table, food and two bottles of wine. It was so much fun to meet them, especially since in many so ways I felt like I already knew them. We talked for more than four hours, about life, relationships, blogging, community and the many challenges that life can throw at you. I knew before heading out to meet them tonight that I’d enjoy their company, but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of fun I’d have or the connection I’d feel.

Internet, once again, you have done right by me.

Long before there were BlogHer conventions where people who knew each other only from online experiences could meet, I attended a number of writers' conventions. I always found it so interesting to see what people looked like, especially people whose books I'd loved, whose words I'd enjoyed. The remarkable thing to me was that if I had chosen who to talk to, who to try to get to know, based on looks I would never have expected to like or enjoy some of the people I found I liked or enjoyed. The meeting of the minds through words had connected me to them without the mediation of a physical facade. I think online relationships do the same thing. We only have words to connect us. Words in a blog, words in an email to a listserv, words in a chat window during a game. Online, no one really cares how you look, they only care what you have to say. In many ways, I think this rarefied meeting of the minds in the ether of hyperspace is what creates in us the emotional response of friendship.

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