General Question

Siren's avatar

Are online friends really friends?

Asked by Siren (3391 points ) January 7th, 2009

Is it enough to have friends you chat/converse with online, or do we need to actually get out there and “mingle” in the real world? Is it really a friendship if it is online? Is it really socializing if it is cyber-based? If you have online-only friends, are you content with that, prefer it, or are you miserable and trying to make more friends outside the internet realm? Just curious and would welcome all responses.

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78 Answers

seVen's avatar

Not in my book, they are just a virtual aquaintance.

GAMBIT's avatar

In the past year I have relied on my on-line friends just as much as my person to person friends. Each one is important to me.

Jack79's avatar

My online friends are very much real to me, since I can have a conversation and exchange thoughts and experience just like I would if they were close. Don’t you call friends on the phone and talk? Does that make them any less friends?

Having said that, I often feel the need for intimacy, and since I tend to touch my friends, hug them and so on, I cannot imagine spending the rest of my life entirely onlie. For example I spent 10 days in isolation between Christmas and last Sunday, and it was good to finally see an old friend close up after that. I told her my problem and she touched my hand at some point, which made her support a lot more real than if she’d just talked to me on the phone or online.

pathfinder's avatar

Some thrue question this is.The person as friend on line is honest but that relay on the stuff what is on.The question is are you honest.The honesty main reason to make some friends.That mean any friendship in.Virtual or real.I am honest what about you?On the internet we can create a basic character about that person in case we write about.That is my focus.Last thing is that I trust serious people as are on fluther.I would not chouse any another.I guess

EmpressPixie's avatar

They are real friends, but they can’t give you a hug or a shoulder to literally cry on. You need connections to the real world as well.

millastrellas's avatar

Good question Siren.
I was thinking about these not too long ago, and I am still not sure how I feel about it. I have always considered my online buddies friends. It is through the internet (chats and boards) that I have been able to get close and personal with certain important individuals in my life. I do not know if it a good thing or not. In my book, it is normal and a part of who I am, yet I am sure that to most of my family and friends (outside the inet) they’d disagree.

tonedef's avatar

I would definitely consider my online people “friends,” but also, I can only interact with them while sitting in front of the computer. Since I am not in front of the computer most of the time, I need companionship IRL, also.

SuperMouse's avatar

During some of the lowest moments of the past couple of years my online friends have been there for me more than my friends in real life. When I moved half-way across the country it had no impact whatsoever on my relationships with online friends, but of course it had a HUGE impact on the real life friendships I left behind. I consider my online friends as important as those I have in the flesh, but I agree with EmpressPixie, you have to have some real people around you as well.

cookieman's avatar

I see online friends as no different than pen-pals (anyone remember those), or friends you have moved away from but now communicate via phone, eMail, or snail-mail.

According to the Oxford American:
noun
A person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.

Says nothing of having to have physical contact – to me that would just be frosting on the cake.

Siren's avatar

Wow, I love these answers. Keep em’ coming friends!

@millastrellas: Thank you, indeed!

Siren's avatar

For myself: I admit I don’t currently have any online friends who I regularly converse with, but I have had those friendships in the past and they have been truly enriching, in whatever form they took. I know people who have many online friendships and they cherish them as equally as if they were standing in front of them.

I guess technology has created a whole new social arena where we don’t even have to present ourselves physically (and be judged prematurely)? Would it be fair to see that an online friendship may be the truest friendship, since it is pure discussion?

cwilbur's avatar

I think online friends can be as real as face-to-face friends. It takes an investment on both sides, though.

EmpressPixie's avatar

Actually, for a very short time, LiveJournal had some completely touching commercials (that only showed in movie theatres) that were about the connections people made on LJ crossing over to real world connections. Just because we’re friends online, doesn’t mean we can’t be friend in real life too.

One of my high school buddies and I keep in touch online, visit each other every so often, write letters, e-mail, text, and now co-author a blog to keep in touch. But if you pushed me, I would say we are primarily online friends. Because I see her once every… two or three years.

Allie's avatar

(Pokes head in Campfire door)
Yes, I think they are.
<3

Harp's avatar

I get the sense that I must not have a very high “friendship” threshold. When I hear people define friendship in terms of what they could expect from a “real” friend in times of need, I just can’t relate to that. It sounds like a needy, self-centered, overly dramatic way of looking at it. If I know enough about you to have some idea of you as a person, enjoy your company and your point of view (and sense that you enjoy mine), look forward to meeting you again, miss you when you’re not around, then hey, you’re my friend. I’m not worried about whether or not you’ll be by my deathbed or loan me money. I ask very little of my friends.

There are lots of people on Fluther I feel that way about. I feel genuine affection for them, and hang out here to be with them. I think I’m probably not very good at communicating that sentiment to all of them; there are many, I’m sure, who have no idea that they’re actually important people to me, and that I have those tender feelings about them jeez, I hope that didn’t sound creepy.

Siren's avatar

@harp: But Harp, you do get something from the friendship. It’s not something you can put a price on, but it is a “give” and “receive” kind of arrangement, if I may boil it down to the basics. Think of it, if you will, as a symbiotic relationship where each person benefits from the friendship in their own way. That’s what keeps the friendship going, am I right? I mean, you get that glow when you get a comment from a flutherer sent to you and you only. It’s kind of a validation. That’s what makes it a true friendship (that someone sees the beauty in you). am i rambling?

lunabean's avatar

i have real online friends that i trust as much as offline friends. there are good people in the online world. is it any different than offline friendships? not necessarily, in my experience.

TitsMcGhee's avatar

I definitely think online friends qualify as friends, but perhaps in a different category than those you know IRL. The best thing is that online friends have a different view of situations, especially when you need advice. They aren’t going to get caught up in the drama of “real life” relationships, they can offer objectivity. And I know I do care about the ones that I develop some kind of personal relationship with, and I’d hope they care about me too.

Harp's avatar

@Siren
Oh yes, I didn’t mean to say that both parties don’t get something from a friendship. But the criticism I’ve heard of online friendships is that they’re not “real” because those friends won’t be there beside you to provide real-world support when you need it, as if to be a friend, they’ve got to be able to be of some material use when things go bad for you.

While I do think that it’s awfully nice to think a friend would do that for you, I don’t really need to expect that of a person in order to consider them a friend.

cwilbur's avatar

This is the distinction between “friends” and “good friends.”

There are many people that I enjoy spending time with, and who enjoy spending time with me.

There are far fewer people that I could call and depend on in a crisis. If my house burned to the ground, I know who I would turn to for emotional support, and I know for certain that I would get it. This doesn’t mean I expect that level of devotion and commitment from all my friends (and if I did, I’d be really disappointed on a regular basis), but that there are a few really close friends that I can expect it from if I need it.

El_Cadejo's avatar

Yes, i think they are. I mean in all honesty i feel like i know those who frequent campfire better than i know half the people i interact with on a regular basis….

<4 or something stupid like that…...

Siren's avatar

@Harp: Sorry, I misread. And I completely agree with your response.

@cwilbur: Well-put. It’s true. I don’t think some of my other friends know me enough to understand me when I’m having a crisis. Not that I would freak out or anything (hopefully) but they could read me better and be someone more suitable to lean on, etc.

Siren's avatar

Interesting point uberbatman. not stupid at all

jrpowell's avatar

Allie, UB, Riser, and Del probably know more about me then the friends I have in real life. I will probably never meet them so I have nothing to hide. we have a sign to steal

Siren's avatar

But your heart is still vulnerable johnpowell :)

May2689's avatar

Of course they are!! I’ve been talking to this friend on msn for about 7 years now!!! And we’ve only met once!! We talk almost every night

mangeons's avatar

I have various very good friends on this site and others. :)

tinyvamp's avatar

my online friends are just as much friends as my offline friends, the only difference is i cant go over their houses and play guitar hero when i feel like it

Allie's avatar

JP: Once you devise a plan let me know. I will visit one weekend and help you on your mission. I’ll be like a super sidekick or something.
Uberbatman: Yes, <4. Lots and lots of <4.

wundayatta's avatar

I think there is a huge distinction between online friends and real friends. What I have here, I have learned, is all virtual. If it’s friendship; it’s virtual friendship. If it’s love, it’s virtual love.

I know it’s possible for virtual friendships to move into real ones, but that’s rare. People move to phone contact, chat, video chat and…. Well, I’ve heard a lot of promises, but they almost never come true.

Perhaps my problem was that I put my heart on the line in a serious way. I don’t do that any more. I now understand the place the virtual world has in the scheme of things. I may have hurt some people’s feelings in doing that, and for that, I am sorry, but I do not regret it. I was saving myself.

Siren's avatar

I think the excitement is in the possibility of the “virtual world” becoming a reality. Taking that next step in transversing the comfort zone of anonymity in cyberspace to give someone your real email address, then phone number. It’s a possibility I think for us all, regardless of our intentions at the onset. Sometimes friendships just grow, and out of curiosity or admiration, we really want to know who that person is, in the real world.

Perhaps that’s why some here believe the virtual online friendships are just as powerful and important to us, because of that potential. Just thinking out loud here.

jbfletcherfan's avatar

They sure are to me! I’ve made tons of friends on AV that we email, IM, exchange pictures & several I talk on the phone with. There’s real people behind these screens. I respect & love them just as much as I do my “in the flesh” friends. In fact, I’m closer to many of my internet friends than I am those I’ve known for years. Two I have plans to meet in person.

Siren's avatar

Conversely – and playing the devil’s advocate here – there’s also the potential that meeting the person in the flesh turns out to be somewhat of a letdown, either because of physical expectations and/or the person becomes more tongue-tied, and the person you talk with in person doesn’t impress with you with that same flair for gab that you loved and admired online. Furthermore, they may feel that way about you (which would suck).

cwilbur's avatar

@daloon: it’s only virtual if the person on the other side sees it as not real. If you think it’s real, and the other person thinks it’s just cyber chat, putting your heart on the line will get you badly burned.

The problem is that in face-to-face relationships there are a lot of little cues we pick up on that tell us just how seriously (or not seriously) the other person is taking it. In online interactions, there’s a lot less bandwidth, and so it’s very easy for one side to think that it’s real while the other side thinks that it’s just flirting online.

I mean, some of my best friends are people I see maybe once every two or three years – but I keep in touch with them online. I don’t see a qualitative difference there that depends on whether I first met them in person or online.

Judi's avatar

You guys are the only place where I’m just Judi and not Jeff’s wife. I love being Jeff’s wife, but his strong personality tends to overpower me and I become invisible. I value you guys because I feel heard. I need my real life friends too, but y’all have a special place in my heart for listening to me ramble. it feels good.

Nimis's avatar

Jeff Judi’s husband.

EmpressPixie's avatar

@Nimis: You may have been joking a bit, but if someone came here and I knew them as, say, Judi (or Cak or MrM)‘s significant other, that is probably how I would think about them forever.

Judi's avatar

I went back to Yoga class without my Husband and the teacher didn’t remember me or my husband. I told her “When Jeff comes with me tomorrow you’ll remember us.”
Sure enough, “Oh yeah, now I remember you!”

Allie's avatar

I didn’t even know you two were married..

Nimis's avatar

Emp: Joking aside, me too!
Judi: It would be the reverse here.
Maybe his handle could be JudisJeff.
(Totally stole that from JonsBlond.)

cak's avatar

Judi is Judi to me! (a really nice person to know online…we’re on different coasts, I would never had met her, had I not found another site)

I started on Askville in September ‘07. I have a group of friends that I communicate with, they have been there with me through my battle with cancer, my father’s poor health and now his death. To know that there are people that care enough to check in on me, to ask things and some of them remember more than people in my real world! We share stories out our children, life, work, experiences. It’s like we’re having coffee, tea or even a beer, together…just not in the same states.

I never thought online people could be friends, but I was wrong. I know that some are closer than others, but isn’t it that way with friends in your everyday world?

augustlan's avatar

They are their own special category of friends :)

simonPARASITE's avatar

i love my online friends a hell of a lot more than my real life friends.
over the internet it’s easier to find people you share things in common with.

wundayatta's avatar

@cwilbur: ”The problem is that in face-to-face relationships there are a lot of little cues we pick up on that tell us just how seriously (or not seriously) the other person is taking it.

You’re right. We don’t have this in online relationships, and so it is easier to be fooled. I would venture to say that you never truly know what a person is about until you meet them personally. Why do business people fly halfway around the world for a handshake? They know you can’t really assess the trustworthiness of someone until you meet them.

In the absence of all that information that we collect subconsciously, I think we make it up. Unfortunately, we usually do that without being aware we are doing that. Many years ago, I was perusing the personals in The Voice. These ads are about three lines long. I would read them, and I would make up a whole story and a whole personality behind them, and then write to that person I had made up. It took me a while to realize I was doing this.

Since I didn’t ever meet any of these people, I figure that either I was wrong in my fantasy of who they were, or I didn’t present myself in a way that interested them. Of course, everything I said was a lie in the sense that one can never characterize oneself accurately. One may not see oneself clearly. One may not even be aware of quite a lot about oneself.

I am certain that goes on online, too. That’s why I’m wary. As long as I don’t take things to mean too much, I’m ok. It’s when I lose hold of my common sense and follow my impulses that I get in trouble. Of course, that is typical behavior for someone who is bipolar. If I could show you my correspondence from that time, you’d see how up and down and impulsive I was. You’d be able to track the exact days when my mania was at it’s strongest, and the days when I switched and started heading down. It’s frightening and fascinating at the same time. No one who I was writing to could truly understand what was going on. I just looked erratic and mean. I don’t believe I really am that way, normally.

jbfletcherfan's avatar

Hi, CAK. We go back a long way, don’t we? An on-line friendship can be just as real as an in-person one can be. It just depends on what you put into it.

Judi, you’re just Judi to me. Nimis who??? ;-)

Siren's avatar

@daloon: thanks for sharing your story with us. You make an interesting point, and bring up the issue that one can present oneself online however we choose, but is it only a fragment of our whole personality? On a darker note, and going one step further, our online presentation could be a complete facade of our true personality.

jbfletcherfan's avatar

Personally, I don’t have the energy to be someone other than who I am. I’m just me. Take it or leave it. I put on no airs or other persona. And the ones whom I’m closest to, we’ve been friends for too long for me to question they’re anything other than what they’ve presented themselves to be.

Nimis's avatar

Hmmm…very amusing misconceptions on this thread!
<—Not Jeff Judi’s husband.

jlm11f's avatar

also, just so it’s clear, Nimis = FEMALE :)

jbfletcherfan's avatar

Thread is misleading then.

Siren's avatar

@jbfletcherfan: I would say that in most cases, people’s personalities come across by the style of their writing. There are exceptions however, as in any situation, but in my above comments I was referring to the extreme end, not norm. It’s harder to convey having a different personality through writing. at least for me :)

And, personalities make friendships. I guess with internet-based friendships, whatever information you provide about yourself is taken at face-value…because how are we to verify it otherwise? Unfortunately, it is those details which may strengthen an online friendship over time (ie “I also like football”). Anyways, I guess it doesn’t matter until you cross that threshold from “internet-only friend” to “in-person friend”. Am I right?

jbfletcherfan's avatar

@siren, personalities & writing style are definately what either wants me to get to know a person better or to stay away from them. Until I get into the nitty-gritty of a friendship, that’s all one has to go by.

Siren's avatar

good point jbfletcherfan

Allie's avatar

@PnL and @Nimis : I’m sorry I misunderestood SO bad. Epic fail on my part.

Nimis's avatar

Neah. I can totally see your mistake.
But even after my second quip, someone else still did the same!
Though I do have a jumbly way of writing…

asmonet's avatar

@daloon: I disagree. Though, my experience could be the exception.

wundayatta's avatar

Ah well @asmonet, I hope you never have an experience like mine.

airairariel's avatar

there are certain aspects of each friendship that i enjoy.
the best is getting to know someone online and liking them as a person
and then meeting them IRL and liking them even more!

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i think you can definitely have an online friend. i consider a friend someone i can confide in and who can confide in me, etc. i met one of my absolute best friends online a few years ago, and i feel closer to her than i do to a lot of my friends that i see every day. of course, you can’t just trust anyone you meet online to be safe let alone a friend, but there are plenty of folks online who are friend-worthy in my opinion.

jbfletcherfan's avatar

@tiffy, I agree. Some of my closest friends are those I’ve met on the internet. And when you talk to them on the phone, they’re much more real.

Siren's avatar

Does anyone have a view on whether having more online friends makes one more anti-social, since they are eliminating the aspect of being in close-proximity with other human beings, are relatively anonymous and furthermore can reinvent themselves as they see fit (ie with interesting avators, etc.)?

tiffyandthewall's avatar

@jb, exactly! hah i refer to my friend so often ‘in real life’ that most of the people who don’t even know her do know her by name, and some of my ‘real life’ friends have taken to talking to her a lot too.

i think it’s unfair to say someone online isn’t a real friend just because they can’t physically watch movies with you and you can’t see them in person when you talk.

jbfletcherfan's avatar

Oh, again, I agree. It irks me when someone says they’re just ‘virtual friends’. Like they’re not real, or something. Hey, there IS a real person behind that screen there. I also constantly talk about my internet friends.

Siren, as far as people getting anti-social, I’m sure it’s possible. And I’m sure it happens. Many people may only have internet friends. I have many real life friends, & the ones I’ve made on here are just the frosting on the cake, so to speak.

Siren's avatar

@jbfletcherfan: That’s good to know. I agree personally that a balance between the two is the healthiest choice, since at the very least it allows you to get out of the house once in a while. Just my opinion. However, for some it may not be possible, due to moving to a new city or not having those resources, etc. Everyone’s situation is different.

windex's avatar

Yes, yes they are, friend…

steelmarket's avatar

They are “virtual aquaintances” (well said, @seVen). Friendship is give and take, and to me that means more than just exchanging information. Shared experiences are hard to come by on line.

unused_bagels's avatar

I believe that online friends are real, however online relationships are not.
You can talk to a real friend, hang out, play games, etc. without any care of who they really are, but in my experience, dating people online is dangerous cos things can get a little creepy, and that hot babe you met is really a 55 year old fatty guy living in his mom’s basement. Now if you’re just friends, who cares if he’s a 55 year old fatty guy! Be friends online, don’t date.

wundayatta's avatar

Dear unused_bagels,

My name is unused_cream_cheese. Isn’t that awesome? I think we should hookup some day. Ooooh. It would be even better if unused_lox, unused_tomato, unused_onion, and unused_capers came along with us. Now that would be a party! If you know what I mean. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink!

Please meet with me before I melt or, shudder, grow mold.

Wait! One more thing. Are you toasted or untoasted? I’ve heard that untoasted bagels are, uh, more sensitive, but I’ve never had the chance to find out. Most bagels, these days, seem to be toasted.

anxiously,
unused_cream_cheese

jbfletcherfan's avatar

Bad, bad daloon. haha

wundayatta's avatar

Who? Me? [puts on his most innocent look]

jbfletcherfan's avatar

LOL…always ;-)

asmonet's avatar

@tiffyandthewall: I watched a movie with my online friend Timmy who lives in Texas. We watched The Lost Skeleton of Kadavra synced up and talked over Ventrilo. And it was a fucking blast. :)

You can totally watch a movie, listen to music do all sorts of things with online friends.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

@asmonet, ahaha that’s true. i uploaded a video of a friend and i at the beach and sent it to my ~online friend~ as an alternative to bringing her (like a tour!). not exactly the same thing, but hey. technology can be a wonderful thing.

asmonet's avatar

@tiffyandthewall: Exactly. The basic interaction and definition of friendship may change but the fact remains, it is a friendship. And can be a very real one. Thanks for the example, I steal that for some of my online friends. :)

A_Beaverhausen's avatar

some of my online friends are better friends then the ones i see everyday.

ive never met god face to face, does that mean hes not my friend?
or just a “spiritual acquaintance?”

dland's avatar

Not automatically.. But like people you meet and interact with in the “real world”, they certainly can become real friends. The relationship will likely be different than people you know in 3D-space, but genuine emotional and spiritual bonds can be formed online as well as in the physical realm.

Of course, it’s easier to be taken advantage of online, so you have to keep your wits about you, but friendship comes from relationships, and real relationships can form online.

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