Are online friendships "real"?

March 18, 2010 Off By Chris Hinton

Online friendships are a strange thing. It used to be that you made your friends by meeting them at work, school, or some sort of club event. Whatever was the case, a key element was the physical meeting. In this digital age, though, we are forming more and more friendships without ever having met each other.
I often talk about my friend in Lanzarote,ย South Africa, orย Coventry, and the obvious question gets asked:
How did you meet them?
Well… on the Internet.
Oh right, so you haven’t actually met?
Not in person, no.
And suddenly the whole thing feels a bit inferior to a “proper” in-person friendship.
You might recall a post a while back about a friend called Dan. Dan was a contributor to this blog, fellow Formula 1 fan, geek, and all round good guy. And we never met. He didn’t live a million miles away (the UK isn’t that large, after all) and we didn’t speak every single day, but I definitely counted him as a friend. The post I mentioned was one informing you that he had died unexpectedly and, just after that, the whole arena of online friendships came to the front of my mind. So many people would think that a friendship based on e-mail, Twitter and team blogging isn’t a strong one but, let me tell you, when I heard he had passed away it felt every bit as strong as the death of my wife’s and my Best Man.
When I look at the friends I have online I realise I genuinely care about them – I’m happy when they tell me something good has happened to them, and I’m genuinely distressed when they tell me something bad. I would talk to them about much the same stuff as I would someone in the same room. We don’t get to actually do stuff together, but we get to talk about our common interests and differences.
And so I’m wondering, is it fair to see online friendships as inferior? Does meeting in person actually matter? Or is it becoming increasingly irrelevant? I’d love to know your thoughts.
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