Friendships in a cyber age

Joshua Goldberg’s sudden death, at age 43, has really saddened me.  I feel as if I’ve lost a friend — not a best friend, because we weren’t that close, but a friend nevertheless.  What’s funny, though, is that I never actually met Joshua.  I never talked to him on the phone.  I never even saw him across the room.  Instead, our friendship played out entirely over the internet.  We emailed each other.  When I needed help, he gave it.  When he had something interesting to say, he offered it.  I valued our communications, and felt a bond with him.  I called that bond friendship.

I feel that same bond with many of my regular readers.  I wouldn’t be able to pick your faces out in a crowd, and if you called me, I wouldn’t recognize your voice.  Yet we certainly converse on a daily basis.  We share thoughts, ideas and, as appropriate, personal stories.  Even if the voice coming from your physical being is unknown to me, I recognize the voice of your mind.  With many of you, I know you so well that, even if I didn’t see your name on a comment, I’d still know it was you talking.  I feel that constitutes a friendship too.

I have email friendships that I’ve made through blogging that have the same “feel.”  We write each other on a regular basis.  Indeed, as with the people who comment here, I “speak” with my email friends more than I do with many of the people I see in the flesh.  We share our sorrows and our joys.  We laugh at jokes, share news, and try to understand our world a bit better.  With these people, I feel that, if I was to meet with them face-to-face, we’d pick up our conversation in the middle, as if we’d had lunch or coffee together the day before.

Although I’m describing friendships from the computer age, these relationships have a peculiarly old-fashioned feel to them.  Long ago, before telephones and cars and airplanes, friendships could be geographically distant, but still very meaningful.  Ordinary people normally corresponded only with people they knew in the flesh, but the realities of travel in a pre-modern era might mean that a short acquaintance would result in a decades’ long correspondence, lasting until one person could write no more.  With famous people, meeting in the first place wasn’t necessary.  As with the bloggers of today, it was enough that a kindred soul stumbled across a person’s writing and wrote a letter.  Some fan letters went nowhere; some sparked lasting friendships that played out over paper, without the correspondents ever meeting.

I know that some people decry the distance that computers create.  There’s no doubt that there is something inherently antisocial about socializing when there is no one else in the room.  But if a friendship is a meeting of minds, one could argue too that the cyber friendships we’ve created here are the purest friendships of them all.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

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  • Ymarsakar

    Great write up. Very soul expressive.

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  • snopercod

    I have some cyber-friends like you describe. To tell the truth, I’m almost afraid to meet them in person for fear we might not like each other after all these years.


    A few thoughts about cyber friends.

    Tell me, where else can you go to find a banquet of ideas and musings served up with a variety of tastes and spices. It’s a grand feast replete with a main course, a variety of sides and lots of desserts. You can consume all of it or pick and choose without ever having to count calories. In cyber world – it’s the words that enrich your mind-line not your waistline.

  • Ymarsakar

    The cyber world, due to anonymity, bypasses much of the social pressure or hierarchy that holds people back or restrains them. For example, an employee is somewhat reserved with a new boss. While we as commenters respect and obey Book’s rules, it’s not so much that it is her rules as it is ours rules as well. Thus we don’t treat her like we would our boss, in a social setting.
    There is a significant difference, you know. Even if the boss says “oh forget about the job and just relax”, you never really forget what’s actually going on in terms of social hierarchy. That changes how people respond and think.
    On the net, due to anonymity, you treat people equally, because you are socially equal, 99% of the time, with other people on the net. There are, of course, exceptions, but those are extremely rare.
    The net really epitomizes the term called “freedom of association”. If you don’t like your neighbors, tough, suck it up. You can’t take a torch and burn them out. But on the net, if you don’t like someone, you can leave. Literally. And lose nothing in the bargain. TRUE Freedom of association is backed by complete freedom of movement and communications. So long as you are stuck somewhere, you are forced to do some communications over others. In reality, this can happen simply because you are on the street and someone is talking to you. Physically, you are stuck. You have a slight issue simply leaving. But even if you didn’t, they can just come go find you again. Or if they are your friend or your ex lover or your co-worker, you’ll see them pretty soon and immediately. Unless you lose them entirely, they can always “find” you to communicate with you. But on the net, you can be 100% invisible. Isn’t an invisibility cloak one of the most desired super items that people fantasize about? The ability to gain knowledge, but without the social obligations attached to interactions. There are limits to all things, but the freedom the internet provides is orders of magnitude greater than what was normally available to people before.
    Creativity and artistic flare flourishes in freedom, not under duty or obligation. Just how it works.
    A lot of the social “structure” so to speak, that comes from social obligations, politeness, courtesy, and formulaic greetings/farewells, is due to a simple fact. You had to be able to tell, as a human being, which people in a social circle is dangerous and which are your allies. The “courtesies” are designed expressively to detect who is hostile and who is not hostile to you. On the assumption that if someone really hates you enough to kill, they will tell you so somehow. (and yes, people telling other people at parties that they will kill them, and then carrying it out afterwards. They weren’t drunk either when they tried)
    On the net, however, physical hostility is no threat. So, there is more freedom. Also more crazy idiots insulting people, yes. But that’s a result of physical security. Sort of like decadence .Take the good with the bad.