I discover a new blog and read a few posts and think, “I can relate to this person!” After enjoying a few stories, I leave a comment or two, and soon I am on my way to making a new friend. But will we ever be ‘real’ friends?
What is a real friend? Someone you trust enough to reveal who you really are? Someone you know will accept you, regardless of your faults? Someone you feel comfortable with? A real friend loves you, supports and encourages you, prays for you, is always there for you. Can an online friend be such a friend?
Most friendships are formed in a private way, without the whole world looking over our shoulders. Online friendships are very public. What we say to a friend can be read by anyone. We don’t really want to reveal too much about ourselves when we don’t know who might be reading. But…
Sometimes public friendships can go private. I have a few online friends with whom I exchange emails. We can say things we don’t particularly want anyone else to read. We can extend blog comments into real conversations. We can really get to know each other.
And then there’s Facebook. For all its faults, it is a good way of helping to build friendships. Some of my blogging friends have invited me to be their Facebook friends. I get a clearer window into their lives. I can see photos of their family and where they live, chat in public or exchange private messages, learn what they like or dislike, keep up-to-date with their everyday happenings… just like I do with my face-to-face friends.
I have a few online friends I would love to meet. I imagine getting off the plane halfway around the world, and catching sight of a vaguely familiar woman standing on the other side of the airport barrier. Could that be …? Will my friend recognise me? I’ve been posting only flattering photos of myself since our friendship began. Will she say, “But you look older than I imagined?” Of course not! But will she be thinking those words? Will she say, “I thought your accent would be broader? I thought you would be taller?” Or will we embrace in a warm hug and just be glad we have finally met?
I pick up the phone. I have the number of an online friend. I enter all the digits and then I hear the dial tone change. My heart rate quickens a little as I imagine my friend picking up the phone. What will she sound like? Will she be able to understand my accent? What will we talk about? “Hello?” “Hello. It’s Sue…” The conversation is awkward for a few moments and then we are chatting away. Soon we are exchanging information at a much faster rate than we could online. And next time I read my friend’s posts, I imagine her beautiful Southern accent saying the words. A phone call has added a new dimension to our friendship.
I write about how sad I feel or how I have had a bad day or how I have been unwell. Before much time has passed, my online friends have stopped by to leave encouraging comments and assure me of their love and prayers.
I write about my birthday or anniversary and online friends are quick to share in my joy and offer their congratulations.
Or I feel lonely. I haven’t seen a friend in a long time. I turn on my computer and soon I am chatting away, and smiling. Someone is glad to hear from me.
There is no doubt the Internet has reduced the size of the world. I can chat with friends from anywhere, regardless of how far they live from me. We can even join talents and work together. I can share interests with like-minded people. That is a great blessing.
What if I were to disappear from the Internet? Would my online friends quickly forget about me, or would they come searching for me? Would they email, write, phone, leave me a message…? Would they be like my local friends who’d worry about me if I were silent too long? Perhaps a few would.
I return to that initial question: Are online friends real friends?
And I have come to the conclusion that my online friends can be real friends. They are a real blessing in my life. I think they will remain real friends unless they decide to…
Online friends have the option to do all these things, but real friends wouldn’t even think of doing such things...