Monday, April 21, 2008

Redefining "Friends"

I've written previously about how the internet both connects and isolates us, the benefits and downfalls of social networking sites, like Facebook. I'm continuously fascinated by the Internet and sites like Facebook which offer an easy way to maintain connections with friends and family. But social networking sites are also redefining the idea of what a "friend" is. I would venture to guess that the majority of social networking site users have never even met many of their so-called "friends."

A recent article in the Washington Post explores the phenomenon of what it terms Friends Next:

"For most people, when they thought of their close friends, it was people with whom they would share personal things," says Sherry Turkle, a sociologist and psychologist at MIT who has studied online social networks from their beginnings. "What's changing now is that people who are not in the other person's physical life meet in this very new kind of space. It is leaving room for new hybrid forms."
Can you be or have a friend without ever having met? Without having shared experiences and memories? Can one person really have thousands of "friends"?

It really is a brave, new world...


  1. I have two groups of friends I've known for almost 15 years now from the Internet. We're scattered around the country so I have not physically met a couple of them yet, but I still consider them among my best friends. We do share personal information; in fact, I'm more likely to share personal stuff with them than people I know locally. However, it can be awkward when you're trying to people who someone is.

  2. I've met and made a number of friends via the internet as well. Interesting that you feel more comfortable sharing personal info with an internet buddy than someone you know IRL. Could that, perhaps, be the reason? The distance makes you feel more comfortable with sharing?

  3. I think you're right; the distance definitely makes it more comfortable with sharing. Internet friends won't gossip about me at school pickup, for example. I also think it has to do with the fact that I've only shown them my "best self." To a certain extent you're able to control your internet friends' perception of you. (At least you're able to if you write well.) They never see me when I'm tired, cranky, etc. Even if I'm feeling negative, I have time to come up with a witty way of expressing that.

  4. I think each method of communication: cel, landline, email, IM, text, blog, shows off a different side of yourself. IM is nice because it's immediate and thoughts are in little phrases rapidfire. Also you get the "confessional" effect where you'd tell someone something in IM or email but not in real life.

    One of my best friends is a Texas woman I've been IM'ing for years. I've met her, and was thrilled to be able to span the IM-person and the real-person within a few seconds. Sometimes that gap is too wide to cross...