I don’t have any Internet friends.

July 28th, 2010

Once upon a time, I had friends on the Internet. It seemed the cultural consensus at the time was that this was kind of a nerdy thing to do, a sign that you didn’t have enough fulfillment in your “real life” that you had to seek out invisible friends in “cyberspace.”

I had a conversation last night at a Meetup/Tweetup/Mashup and I realized how much this has changed. We don’t talk about “cyberspace” anymore as if there’s a separate “real life.” When a small portion of the public were Internet users, I would have one group from that set of “Internet friends” and another group of “real life friend.” And the RL friends would often poke a little fun at me and ask why I would think of someone I’d never met as a friend.

But I think I was always a little bit aware that the distinction wasn’t so sharp. The potential for shallowness of Internet friendship was also present in other friendships. I started college as a theatre major; groups of people working on plays together would develop remarkably intense friendships, as night after night they stepped into the roles of lovers or family. Then, after the play was over, we’d swear we’d be friends forever. A year later, we’d forget each other’s names. If this was how “real world” friendship worked, I didn’t see why any other friendship would be real or fake. I dropped my theatre major and became a literature major, studying great people who expressed themselves through writing. Why couldn’t true friendship grow out of writing?

This division has largely disappeared from my life, and maybe from life in general. There are no longer two distinct sets of people, or two distinct types of activities. in short:

1. Almost all of my “in-person” friends have become connected to my Internet sphere. I can’t think of the last time I participated in a friendly activity that wasn’t organized, to some extent, through social media.

2. “Online friends” haven’t stayed online friends; even those few I haven’t met in person are as tied to my in-person network as anyone else is.

Every friendship begins somewhere, but in the past we’ve over-estimated the importance of that beginning point. We ask couples “Where did you meet?” as if that interaction essentially defines everything that comes after it. So the old way of thinking would say the fruit of a friendship that germinated with “She sat next to me in Poli-Sci” or “He worked in the office across the hall” is essentially different from one that germinated with MySpace. The friends I make through the Buddhist temple aren’t limited to discussion of Buddhism, and likewise, the friends I make online aren’t limited to become anything else.

But then at these tweetups and meetings of the Detroit International Social Meetup (you should totally join us if you’re in Detroit) I have a set of friends that I made at in-person meetings that I found online. They aren’t online friends who’ve become real, as in, “We chatted so much online that we finally had to meet in person.” They’re also not in-person friends that I got to know well before deciding to trust them in my online network.

Being a person means being both a mind and a body. A rich interaction with someone comes from sharing the mental/rhetorical/expressive side of things as well as sharing physical space and resources. There are no longer two sets of friends, one for conceptual discussion and one for personal activities. I’m glad I don’t have to choose.

3 Responses to “I don’t have any Internet friends.”


    It is not a faint memory of the grimace you witness when you tell people you met a person on the internet. Or the chuckle. Or the look of shock That said, the response of sheer disruption of the psyche has rapidly dissipated and I don’t see as many funny looks these days.

    I am glad to say you are a real acquaintance in my network – both IRL and URL. Keep it zen, my friend.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Hubert! It’s mutual. The awesome opportunities to meet people through Tweetea wouldn’t have happened if not for those of us who risked those grimaces back in the day.

  3. Liz says:

    Yes, quite. I always used to say “I picked him/her up on the internet” those twelve or so years ago when people thought it was odd and strange and just plain freaky….

    I read this today and thought about your piece http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/07/10_reasons_to_stop_apologizing.html

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