Had to think this post over several days before actually sitting down to write it. In this ever changing world we are now exposed more and more to the "virtual world." From social networking sites and message boards to strangely obsessive simplistic games and the world of MMO's, it is all there at our fingertips. With those things becoming so much a part of our daily lives, it is only a matter of time before people start to talk about things outside of whatever subject or system brought them together.
It can be uncomfortable to talk with someone whom has most likely have never been seen, or whose voice might have never been heard by the other person. The back of ones mind could be tingling with ancient warnings about strangers and media reports of horror stories related to online relationships. However, there is some common ground or bond with this person, and the conversations start to flow. As hours and days past one of two conclusions can be come to. Either the person on the other side of the screen is an excellent actor or there really is common ground and a genuine enjoyment of the others company. If this had been anywhere else other than online, it would be the grounds for a real friendship.
That makes me think hard about what defines friendship. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines friend as "One attached to another by affection or esteem" and as "A favored companion." Friendship is defined as "The state of being friends." All three sound simplistic really. A friend is someone you like, someone you enjoy being with, someone you have key things in common with. Yet near everywhere I go, there is a line drawn between "friends" and "online friends" with the latter being perceived as meaning less or not even real, just because of the platform that brought the them together.
My first experience with "online friends" came about with the help of a message board I started reading and posting on. The people there had helped with a health crisis in one of my parrots. Over the months certain members of the board communicated with me outside of that site. I saw them as friends, not making a separate section in my mind between them and the friends I could see and speak to. As time passed, one of them ended up parrot sitting for me and three attended my wedding! (The wedding which happened because two people started talking on a moderated online dating site.) It was the first time these people saw each other face to face. During that time those "online friends" also gathered together to help one of us who was struggling with a dangerous illness. It seemed to me that we were there for her more than those in her "real" world. The lines blur so easily in moments like that.
Shortly after, I started playing an online MMO. At first those avatars on the screen and the words they said in the chat channels were distanced in my mind. I just learned the game and followed along. But, as with the message board, over time conversations deviated and one on one discussions began. Here was a group of people with a common bond through the game who discovered there was even more alike than once thought. Cautiously, the barriers came down and it was discovered who was being real and who was acting. I've had the privilege of meeting one of those friends face to face, and had many many hours of long conversations with another. They have become near and dear to me - two I would consider "best friends."
Yet, there are so many around me that cannot see that "online friends" can be just as meaningful and vital to ones life as "real-world friends." Those online have been there when the others have not. Through the game we talk near daily, something that doesn't happen with the others. The miles drift away as conversations draw us closer. There is a real flesh and blood person there whom never would have been known about if not for the miracle of the internet and development of these platforms. There shouldn't be a differentiation between those we have gotten to know and love through work, school, church or other outlet and those we have bonded with online.