I'm currently idle at work, waiting for some time to pass so I can go to lunch. I desperately need to get some food and caffeine in me so I can prep myself for the massive amount of meetings I'll be having this afternoon. I know already that I won't be able to just sleep with my eyes open through these -- we're discussing far too much stuff in far too little a time, and the decisions we make in these meetings could make or break my network (and my sanity in 18 months). But, for the moment, I have some down time so I thought I'd take a moment to put an entry in. Which brings me to the thought I've been mulling for a little while now: Are friends any less real if they're "Internet friends?"
There's been a lot of talk the last few years about addictions to the Internet making people less social, geeks struggling to fit in while out in the "real world," all sorts of negative press about what the Internet can do to stunt your growth as a productive human being in society.
I'll admit it, I'm a geek. Always have been, and always will be. I fell in love with computers on that fateful day when my father brought home the Apple ][e. It unlocked a lot of potential for me and is, I'm convinced, the reason I'm in the job I am making the money I am (for all I complain about the salary I'm at, I have to admit that I'm making a pretty good amount of cash per year for somebody without a college degree and who is only 22 years old). I spent a lot of time in my youth on that computer, as well as on the machines that successively replaced it. I used to spend hours every day after school dialing up to the BBSs in the area (before the Internet killed them all), I ran a BBS, I knew a lot of folks online that I never had the chance to meet in person. Sometimes a BBS I was on would have a get-together (or "GT" for short) and I'd be able to attend, catching a ride with somebody before I was old enough to drive, or scheduling time off from work to attend when I finally was had my driver's license. I got to meet the faces behind the names, and I almost always had a good time. I made a lot of friends online, some of them are people I still know (Like Melissa, the Cthulhu Coffee mistress). But conversely I had very few friends in junior high or high school. I don't know if my social skills for real life were stunted or if it was just a matter of me not being that interested in associating with my "peers"... I couldn't stand most of them. When I moved to Illinois and started college, much the same thing happened. By this time I was on the Internet, and had been spending time on the IRC and on various online games like FurryMUCK. I'd replaced a lot of my friends from the BBS world with friends from the Internet world. And while I was lonely sometimes (I didn't go out with my roommates in college much, one I wasn't into drinking at the time, and two I wasn't OLD enough to drink and it sucked being carded) I mostly didn't mind. In fact, during those two or so years that I attended school and spent all my spare time online, I made some great friends whom I eventually got to meet face to face (Namely Aureth, Roho and Jen, amongst others. About a month ago I found myself on the IRC networks again, most notably hanging out in #watertower where I met Kette, Captain, Masem and other folks. I've mentioned before I've gotten a chance to go hang out with Masem and Cap a time or two, so I consider them friends, and I honestly consider most of the other folks on the channel friends as well, even though I've not had a chance to meet them.
But back to my point -- are the friends I make online any less "real" than the friends I make in person (e.g. those at work)? I care about my friends online. I feel bad when bad things happen to them, I joke with them, they provide me interesting conversation and challenge my beliefs, at times forcing me to expand my horizons. They give me a hand now and then when I have problems they have experience solving. They ask after me. They're exactly like friends I make out in the "real world," except I don't regularly (or ever) see them face to face. So why do people look down on these folks? They don't entirely replace social contact in person, but they can certainly augment it. In certain cases they've lead to close friendships in the "real world" as I've mentioned above. I don't differentiate, so long as you meet the requirements to be a friend, you're a friend to me, regardless if you live a block away from me or half a world away.
I for one value them a great deal, and wouldn't give them up for the world.