Can Online Friends Be Real Friends?

In this poignant tribute to Beth Hall Mitchell, a mutual (online) friend of ours who died this week, Alan Noble argues that indeed they can:

"I’m told by people who lived and worked with Beth that the vitality, honesty, and compassion she conveyed online was exactly the person she was offline, and I believe it. We are all so skeptical about the possibility of building any meaningful relationships over the internet, but Beth’s witness shows that 'real' community, with vulnerability and obligations and joy and weeping and love, can exist wherever people are willing to use words to bear with one another over time."


Well Facebook Friend is just one of those oversentimentalized American PR baits. What it really means is "clubmate". I only stay in close contact with a minority of my Facebook Friends. However clubmates are not to be detracted. To paraphrase, "Four Loves" we do not despise silver by praising gold.

That said, it is certainly possible for online people to be friends and I count several people here as my closest. It is true the internet allows faking, but so does solid space. Hypocrisy is not a skill that was suddenly brought into being by Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg and indeed one can argue the reverse-the type of people that search for friendship online are disproportionately the type whose introspective personality makes them incompetent hypocrites.

The net is a great way to find friends. People who can be found without geography. If chronology could be overcome in finding friends that would be equally great but the closest one can come is a one way glimpse at someone who seems a kindred spirit. Online it is two way no matter what the distance.

Friendship, unlike other human relations, is naturally ethereal. It makes no mention of rank, status, age, sex, or tribe. Why indeed should it have to worry about the absurd and contemptible irrelevance of whether or not the friends live within ten arbitrary miles of one another?

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