I was playing an online Star Trek narrative-based role playing game when I met my friend Robyn. She played a great reboot Nurse Chapel and used Rosamund Pike for all of her icons. (Livejournal is pretty great for role playing games, actually.)
Let's ignore the part where I was playing a Star Trek narrative-based role playing game on Livejournal, okay? The point is, every time I see Rosamund Pike, I think of Robyn.
It’s because, when we first met, we were anonymous, and all I had was a name and an icon. That icon is cemented in my brain. Yeah, we’ve met and hung out, and I can easily imagine what Robyn actually looks like. But that original icon of her Nurse Chapel character is still what pops up in my contact list.
Now, Robyn and I chat nearly every day. Despite having only hung out in person once in the last three years, Robyn is absolutely one of those people I know I can talk to if I’m having a crisis of just about any kind. We don’t talk on the phone – our communication is entirely based in chat and email. But we’re friends. Living hundreds of miles away from each other is no big deal; the Internet is just the infrastructure of our communication.
I met Lesley and Julia (of galaxy nails throwdown trash talk) online, too. I found them in the Fatshionista Livejournal community, and we bonded over obnoxious fatshions. We see each other a couple of times a year (Julia and I are already making plans for next year’s Wiscon) but we chat and talk on the phone and send text messages. They’re definitely bosom companions, even when we’re not literally together.
I know a lot of people have trouble making friends -- Rachel isn’t the only person expressing how difficult it is to be a grown-up in a new place looking for some cohorts. But what I always find myself asking during these discussions is how anyone has time for all that in-person hanging out.
On any given day, I am at work for 10 hours a day. Then I come home and write. I have a husband and a dog, and they get the majority of my social energy. There’s dinner to figure out and laundry and grocery shopping. There’s dishes and paying bills and doing my nails.
I met s.e. smith on the Internets. We’re both writers, so maybe it’s no surprise that we’re both comfortable with text being the primary way we communicate. We’ve hung out, and it’s amazing, but if we only talked in person, we’ve almost never get to talk. And I think that’d be a damn shame.
What I’m saying is that I’m busy. And I don’t mean that in any sort of complainy way. I really actively enjoy my life. But it does leave me with little time for traditional hanging out. I don’t think that means I have to give up close friendships though. And that includes with my actual local friends as well.
Which is why I’m glad they are online as well.
One of my local friends is on Tumblr. We reblog each other and then instant message about posts. We work together, but we see each other maybe once a week, sometimes less. Once again, the Internet is how we keep in touch.
Does that seem impersonal? Does every friend interaction have to be about deep and intimate exchanges of emotion or can we just sometimes appreciate the same cat pictures?
I haven’t mentioned Facebook. I’m really, totally terrible at Facebook. I don’t like the interface or the format at all. But I do like that most of my family is on Facebook and we can kind of keep track of what’s going on with each other. I like that some of my family is on Twitter. I like that some of my family keeps in touch via email. It means that I actually spend more time keeping in touch with my family, which is a great thing.
It seems like more and more people dislike the phone. I’m not really one of them; I just don’t have a lot of time to pay attention to a phone conversation the way I should. But I understand people who don’t like being on the phone -- there aren’t any visual clues to go on, and it isn’t always a physically comfortable way of talking to people either. If you have any degree of social anxiety, the phone is probably not your friend. But the phone is there if I really need a voice on the other end, if I can’t type out the things I need to say. It’s not perfect -- but neither are in-person communications.
Back in the early days of the Internet, online dating was this thing only weirdos did. Now, between OKCupid hookups and Match.com commercials, it seems to be something the general public has embraced. Yet o many people still seem to place such an emphasis on making friends who are local. That just seems to narrow the pool so dramatically.
I mean, yes, I enjoy sitting on the couch and kicking back with my friends. There is definitely something about hanging out in person that cannot be entirely replicated via Google Hangout. But is that in-person time really the defining characteristic of a real friendship? I just don’t think it is.
This is why I don’t differentiate between life online and “real” life. It’s all real.
A lot of my online relationships have turned into face-to-face ones. Ed, my husband, is the best example of this. Mutual friends -- that we both met online -- set us up. We got to know each other online. We friended each other on Livejournal, chatted on instant messenger, and started text messaging incessantly. I do mean incessantly. We hung out on the phone and in chat and spent a year getting to know each other long distance. We visited each other once a month.
We wound up in the same place, but our relationship was no less real when we lived in different states.
It wasn’t until I got online that I realized how many other people shared my interests. Without that means of communication, I’m sure I’d have local friends. We’d have literal physical closeness. But I think there’d be something missing.
These days, I am building a character for a Shadowrun game Ed and I are going to play with some friends in Texas. We’ll use Google Hangout for our gaming sessions. We’ll see each other and hear each other and probably yell a lot. The only thing we won’t be able to do is actually throw things at each other. I think that still counts as friendship.