Friday, March 12, 2010

Cyber-friendship

from Emily Bryan . . .

I read an article this week pooh-poohing Facebook, MySpace, blogs and the like as being a counterfeit brand of friendship. Real friendship, the author argued, means facetime. It means disrupting your day for a friend, taking care of someone's kids on short notice, keeping vigil at a hospital. Friendship is too messy to fit neatly onto a cyber-page.

Perhaps.

But I have been able to reconnect with people I've lost touch with over the years through Facebook and MySpace. One was my Ecuadorian "son," a young man who spent his senior year with us when we lived in Wyoming. Granted, we don't exchange notes every day or even every week, but I'm glad to know where he is and what he's been up to for the past 12 years.

If you move around as often as I have, you become accustomed to people slipping in and out of your life. The internet is a way to bridge that gap. I may not be able to sit down and have coffee with my friend from Seattle, but we can pick up the phone or send an email and step right back into the conversation we left.

For full time writers like me, my blog may be the only interaction I have with another person all day (other than family members, of course.) And where else am I going to meet someone from the Netherlands? Cyprus? Australia? Thailand? Canada? Japan? (I could go on. My blog has had visitors from 49 different countries.) I love it when my regular commenters sometimes leave comments for each other. It's as though I'm hosting a cyber-coffee clatch.

But the sharing is so superficial on the internet, the author of the article I read complained. Maybe. A lot of our conversations are. All I know is, through my blog I have wept with someone half a world away over the enduring pain of losing a child. I've rejoiced with newbie authors celebrating their "call." A cyber-friendship, like one IRL, is as real as we make it.

What do you think? Are we corrupting the notion of friendship by transferring it to the Internet? Do you have friends you've only met online? Would you care to join me sometime at www.emilybryan.blogspot.com for a cup of cyber-latte? I can offer no-calorie cyber-cookies too!

16 comments:

Danny March 12, 2010 at 7:06 AM  

Emily,

interesting blog. I have to say that the best friends that I have are my online friends. Since I began hanging around more than 10 years ago I have met people who were there for me in good and bad times, that isn't something that I can say from my "real life" friends. I had to make the bad experience several that many people are only good times friends, when you need them, but they want that you are always there for them in good and bad times.

Whereas I was very lucky with my online friends and the funny thing is when you meet them in person, like at the RT convention, it's not different from online chatting. It's like you have know each other for ages. YOu know what I mean.

Sara Freeze March 12, 2010 at 7:32 AM  

Emily,
I entirely agree with about the value of online friendships and communities. Without the internet, I wouldn't have formed so many friendships with other writers. Without their encouragement, it would be difficult to keep up with the writing, which by nature is a solitary occupation. I'm so glad we have online communities like Hearts Through History to keep the ties and to build a sense of community.

EmilyBryan March 12, 2010 at 7:48 AM  

Danny, it does make RT interesting when you finally get to put a real face to that friend you've been chatting with for a year. And like you, I've not been disappointed. I know the internet is filled with posers and fakes, but somehow, I haven't been taken by them yet.

Will you be in Columbus? I'll be there a couple days early to do the Aspiring Authors workshops with Bobbie Smith and Judi McCoy. It's always such fun!

EmilyBryan March 12, 2010 at 7:55 AM  

Sara--I'm new to Hearts through History, but I'm really enjoying it.

I think the internet is specifically geared to appeal to writer-types. We're typically introverts (with the notable exception of Jade Lee! ;-)) and online social networks aren't as threatening as real life can be. I wish I was more comfortable in crowds, but I'm just not. Writers conferences are hard for me, but it helps to realize lots of the other attendees probably feel the same way.

Half the world is waiting for the other half to say "hi." I want to be the one who starts the conversation first.

Danny March 12, 2010 at 8:30 AM  

Unfortunately, I won't be able to come to Columbus, looks like last year was the last RT for me for years, but I might be able to come to the RWA in future. Oh that aspiring author thing sounds great. Would be exactly what I need.

EmilyBryan March 12, 2010 at 8:55 AM  

Maybe another year then. In the meantime, keep writing!

Nynke March 12, 2010 at 9:00 AM  

This won't be as surprise, Emily, since I'm one of your international cyberpals, but I completely agree with you. And aside from the fun 'hanging out'with people like you has been, I'm so glad that I live in an era when I can keep in touch with one of my best friends, who's emigrated to the other side of the Atlantic! I can chat and skype and email with her, whereas in the past, we'd have had to rely on snail mail (and I'm a lousy letter writer).
And speaking of snail mail, in the past, lots of people were pen pals - were they 'corrupting friendship'?

EmilyBryan March 12, 2010 at 9:25 AM  

Nynke--Excellent point. Historians (and historical novelists) love letter writers. We pore over those source documents for clues about how people actually lived, thought, and spoke. Keeping up a lively correspondence used to be considered an art. People even played chess by mail!

Oh, to have that sort of patience!

EmilyBryan March 12, 2010 at 9:28 AM  

OH! And while I'm on the subject of letters, my DH and I kept our relationship going via snailmail for a whole year while he traveled with a singing team.

Though we chafed at not being together in person, we shared a lot of things in our letters we might not ever have talked about if we'd been together.

LJCohen March 12, 2010 at 10:18 AM  

Emily--my husband and I had a relationship in letters and cards that lasted over 6 years, while in that time, we only saw one another at best once a month. Silly me--met the man 3 weeks before he graduated college when I was a Sophomore.

I guess our 'virtual' relationship worked out. We celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary last september.

And some of my dearest friends are friends through cyberspace. It's time and energy that make a friendship, not necessarily face time.

:)

EmilyBryan March 12, 2010 at 11:53 AM  

LJ--My DH and I had just started dating before he left for a year too. He got to come home for Christmas and that was it.

Did I mention I got straight A's in college that year? Nothing else to do but study and write letters.

librarypat March 13, 2010 at 9:54 PM  

Interesting. I have often complained that the younger generation is so tied in to their electronic devices that they are not learning to interact with people. Facebook, etc are taking the place of just sitting around with friends and visiting.
But in a way, isn't that what we are doing on blogs - sitting around talking with friends. I still prefer the personal touch, but that is not always possible. I found it difficult to find people with similar interests when we moved to our new home in 1992. In 2002 I got a job at a local library and found myself working with people with common interests. With our patrons, we were overlapping on similar interests.
I lost my job last month and am glad I had discovered these online "communities. I am still able to feed my love of books and history.
A good thing about friends in the flesh to visit with, I wouldn't be up until 2 or 3 every night on the computer.

EmilyBryan March 15, 2010 at 10:57 AM  

Pat--You must be quite the nightowl. I'm afraid I'm like a baby doll. Lay me down and my eyes close. I sleep like a rock.

EmilyBryan March 15, 2010 at 10:57 AM  

Pat--You must be quite the nightowl. I'm afraid I'm like a baby doll. Lay me down and my eyes close. I sleep like a rock.

Terri March 15, 2010 at 6:18 PM  

I have lots of wonderful friends that I have met via the Internet. They've been there for me in tangiable ways as well as just giving me support. In one group, we use to share some of our chariable activities and helped each other out weather it was donating shoe boxes full of fun stuff to homeless kids to raising money. We also made a quilt together....everyone made a square or two and then one member quilted them together. This quilt made the rounds to everyone that participated and ended up with a member that had a stroke and need to know that she had friends that cared.

Another wonderful group sent me care packages when I was deployed. Not only did I get kool-aid and other treats but books! They knew me well and took good care of me. When I got home, I even got a welcome home party from them with people traveling from several states to attend.

Yes, I have great local friends but I have just as great ones online.

Terri

EmilyBryan March 19, 2010 at 5:23 AM  

Terrie--I'm so glad your cyber-friendships have been so positive! That's been my experience too.

Cindy Holby

Gerri Russell

Joy Nash

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Emily Bryan

C.L. Wilson

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