I listened yesterday as two friends spent their lunch hour discussing American Idol. They talked about the judges and contestants as though they were old friends, and I wondered if perhaps they don’t honestly know more about those strangers than they do each other.
I’m fascinated by people and even more so by the relationships between them. I know people who are so close they can finish each other’s sentences. They share ideas and secrets and day to day musings. I know people who have shared the same “space” –work, school, neighborhood- for years, and yet know very little about each other. They talk about the weather and work and children and American Idol, but nothing too personal, nothing too deep. There are boundaries to their relationship and they don’t cross them.
Friendships have always had classifications. We have best friends and buddies and pals. We have work friends and school friends and church friends. We have acquaintances and contacts and associates and colleagues and contemporaries. But friendship has taken on a new dimension with the creation of “cyber friends”. An interesting note: the synonyms Word gives for cyber are “fake, replicated, pretend, imitation, virtual, and computer-generated”. With the exception of the last one, I’m not sure that is totally accurate or fair. I’ve made some fascinating discoveries about cyber friends. And my conclusion is that sometimes they can be just as “real” and good for us as the people we have known for a lifetime. Here are some things for you to ponder:
1. Cyber friendships tend to escape the boundaries of class and status. This means my group of cyber friends is more diverse culturally and economically than my real friends. Most of my cyber friendships originated from genealogy contacts, blog readers, or Facebook contacts. When I initially relate to a cyber friend I have nothing on which to base first impressions except words and perhaps photos. I don’t look at what they are wearing or driving. I don’t know where they live or how much money they make. I judge our compatibility on common interests and ideas. Yes, lies are told on the internet. Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but I haven’t encountered many fake people in my virtual world. I guess my interests and age don’t attract many scam artists.
2. Cyber friends may actually know more about the genuine you than your real friends. Blogging, email, Facebook, and other social networking sites manage to pry information from people. Through questions, quizzes, comments, and discussions you can learn a lot more about a person than you might in daily conversations. There is something liberating about the virtual world that removes the inhibitions we might have in person. Yes, again, people lie. But I find people are sometimes more willing to share their feelings online than across the dinner table. In daily life we all tend to “chit chat” about the weather, work, television, etc. We don’t often get into deeper conversation topics out of fear that our emotions will get out of hand and we will surprise or offend the person with whom we are talking. Or maybe we just don’t feel like we have the time to discuss real issues. Online we can cry and type at the same time. We can pour out our feelings at 2am, even though the person we are “talking to” won’t answer until 8am. We can take more risks because we don’t have to actually see that person every day if something goes wrong.
3. Cyber friends can enrich your life and expand your understanding of people. Because of the facts of #1, cyber friends take you out of your comfort zone and show you how other people live. As we age our real friends age with us. We have many of the same memories. We travel in the same circles, attend the same events, and shop at the same stores. We talk about grandchildren, retirement, aches and pains. Cyber friends change all of that. They live in different time zones and have totally different experiences. They can tell you what it is like to live in the city or in snow country or in a foreign land. They have different jobs and hobbies and ideas, even different values.
4. Cyber friends may be more accepting of you than real friends. As much as we love them, real friends are sometimes less than supportive if we want to change, grow, or explore new ideas. Tell an old friend you are going to try yoga and he or she may respond with “Oh, I remember when you tried that dance class. That lasted about a week.” See, the problem with real friends is that they remember our failures as well as our successes. They remember the person we used to be, and may resist any change that threatens their relationship with that person. A cyber friend accepts who you are NOW without any background except what you give them. And yes, perhaps it isn’t fair that you can share only the good stuff, but sometimes we all need a “clean slate”.
My cyber friends make me laugh and cry and think.
I love, love, love people. I love to watch them and listen to them and talk to them.
I love my real friends and my cyber friends.
I love my old friends and there is room in my life for new friends.
I thank God for each and every person he has brought into my life. Each one has enriched and empowered my life.
Enjoy your friends today!