Inhabitants of the blogosphere, social media and virtual reality form friendships with people across the globe. The barriers to friendship which exist in person are often overlooked because they never come up in conversation or ignored altogether as irrelevant. Janet took the time to look at, and give you a look into, her e-friendships. It is an interesting tale. She has questions. Grab a cuppa.
Can e-friends be friends?
Do you keep your online friends (e-friends) at arm’s length? Or are they as close to your heart as your real life friends?
Just as in real life, usually there are varying degrees or levels of relating to folks online. That of course may vary, as well, depending on where you hang out online.
I hang out on blogs and on art sites, for the most part. And Facebook, mostly because I must, for promoting my art/book. This post is not about the sites, services themselves, rather about the relationships we develop, especially the ones that grow into something we would not usually expect from internet interactions.
Let’s take a look at Facebook first. Facebook has active membership in the billions. In the US alone, nearly half (41%) of the US population subscribe to and use their FB accounts (Wiki). I first opened a Facebook account early on in its public evolution, probably around 2007. My purpose was to keep in touch with my many siblings and their families who were scattered all over the US and still scattering. Because we never have been a prolific correspondence bunch, it was a way to keep current on our lives and affairs.
Then, it stretched to cousins. Then, I added work cohorts. Just a few back then, but now that I’ve retired, I have many more as “friends”. Now, Facebook allows members to create a page, which you can brand as you like, and, for the most part, the Facebook world does not associate your personal account with your page unless you make it so.
The point is, for me, Facebook is not usually a place where I create/develop personal relationships. There are many other networking services, MySpace, Twitter, reddit etc. (none of which I use, or am familiar with), providing, basically the same sort of service as Facebook.
Do you have a Facebook or other social network presence? What do you use it for? Do you look forward to interacting with friends and “friends” on Facebook or other “places”? Or do you use it as a platform to promote yourself as an artist, woodworker, writer or to show you’re a BIG fan of a particular social icon, like Twinkies?
As do most of you, I’m guessing, I spend a lot of time in the blogosphere. In a three year period in early 2000’s, blogs increased from one million to over forty million, says a Gallop poll on blogging (Wiki). I’m fairly new to it, only a couple years under my belt. But believe you me, I have great respect for the blogosphere and the folks I meet and interact with. There are so many blogs, there is NO WAY anyone could ever frequent all the blogs/bloggers I like find interesting, or perhaps the blogger is more skilled in areas I choose to explore.
In the mere two years, I have met some wonderful people, and some deep relationships have resulted. I may not even know much about the blogger (and commenters too), but I believe you can tell a lot about a person by the way they present themselves. And present their chosen subjects on which they blog. Some are funny, some are serious. Some are radical, some profound. And the same goes for the commenters on these blogs. That fact, itself also limits the amount of blogs I can frequent, visit often, seldom or even rarely. Because I spend as much time watching the interactions going on, reading the comments on some very popular blogs. Since I usually don’t get there early enough to be the first responder, I have the privilege of becoming acquainted with people I might not otherwise encounter. So, I visit THEIR blog, and my list of interesting folks and their blogs grows exponentially.
But in all that, I have found some very interesting folks, some good-hearted people who really care about others they meet in the blogosphere. Some of these I now call friends. Real friends.
Recently, I was in a cyber situation with a handful of others; some were strangers, all of us working toward the same goal. It was easy to get to know these folks, and to grow to like them. Working together, sharing ideas and material, our hearts touched because our shared goal was something very significant to each of us. And more friendships blossomed. Friendships that extend beyond the common interests or other factors that brought us together initially.
I am very grateful for the friends I’ve made within the blogosphere. They are special because we don’t (yet?) have the obstacles of body language and other subliminal communicating factors that one has with meeting/interacting with people in person. But we have shared some of our deepest, truest, most intimate feelings so we enjoy relationships built on things near and dear to us. I have found a deep and sincere interest in the success of these friends in their various endeavors. Even the ones I haven’t gotten to know yet!
Have you met any special friends in the blogosphere? Do you feel that the people you meet in the blogosphere are being honest, expressing their true selves? Or perhaps you have experienced the opposite? Folks who only develop a relationship with you to keep their blog stats high? Or some other agenda?
Though I understand the need for caution, I tend to trust e-friends quickly and unconditionally. From the safety of my own home.
A third “place” where I have made some great friends is on the art sites I joined. Digital art is a passion I wanted to interact with others over. For many reasons. To learn To be inspired. To share. To teach. The first art community I joined was Deviant Art. True, I was a little put off by the name, but at the same time curious to see why it had such a descriptive moniker. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in 2011, DA ranked 13th most visited social network (Wiki).It has more than 14 million members, boasting nearly 150,000 submissions daily.
Almost as soon as I joined, I realized the name, though strange, had nothing to do with the individuals in the community, really. These were real folks from all over the world. So, I visited their galleries and was inspired by the many talented people who share their work on DA. This was a community of very generous artists who wanted nothing more than to share their knowledge and experience so that others (me?) could learn and grow as artists. And so I did. Then I found the courage to begin filling my own gallery. And was shocked and amazed and proud when some of the most talented artists I’d ever know actually liked my work.
Over the years (about 4 now), some personal relationships developed here, as in the blogosphere. Again, some folks with whom I shared direct communication and common interests outside of the Deviant Art world.
A couple months back, one of these relationships was suddenly changed. The other DA member, Mark, unfortunately passed away. He was a prolific and talented artist. He was also a prolific commenter on many, many different artists work. Always a positive word. Always a showing of support and kindness. He loved the DA community and we, in turn, loved him. He shared with me that due to a decades old accident, he was “disabled”. Due to permanent brain damage, his ability to communicate had changed – he could not write to the standards most of us take for granted. Yet he was always able to get his point across. He was always clear and supportive, even if his punctuation and grammar were a little “off”. There were other physical challenges, but they did not define him, in his mind or in mine.
This is what I find so special about online friendships, with people we’ve not met, and probably won’t. When not interacting in person, we are able to see beyond the factors that might otherwise affect how we perceive someone. Body language can be a hindrance. As can many other factors/features/aspects that make us who we are. And, unfortunately, once we’ve met that person and observed their differences or similarities, a portion of our mind and heart always adds those factors into our conscious perception of the person. Once there, it’s pretty hard to redefine that person in our mind to someone who is more than what you see.
Mark was curious, well read, and understood human nature better than many people I know. He was gentle and kind and opened up to his DA friends. He was genuine and generous. He had a relationship with a family of “urban foxes” that lived in his backyard. And he shared that with us in his almost daily photos of Roxy and Rocky and their kits when they arrived. And they grew accustomed to him, allowing him to get closer and closer as he photographed them over a couple years. His photos were studies of conscious beings that weren’t people. But, in reality, they were very much like us.
So, when Mark died, I felt the grief physically, same as when a beloved family member had passed. I cried. In wonder, I felt the hole he had left in my heart and in the world. His absence was palpable. That’s when I realized that I needed to redefine friendship. To consciously include some of the wonderful friends I’ve met online, and knew only online. I already was aware they were special. I just hadn’t realized how much they really meant to me. A lot!
And I learned a good lesson from this. We learned of Mark’s passing, because his brother (Simon) knew of Mark’s passion for his art and the DA community. So, Simon felt it appropriate to notify us of his demise. As much as we hate to, it is usually a good idea to prepare for our own death, by making wills, or expressing our final wishes in some fashion. I can tell you that I have already made it abundantly clear that when I leave, I want someone to notify all my e-friends. So they won’t be left wondering what has become of me and are able to grieve properly.
Have you prepared for this, in your final wishes? Do you care if your e-friends are made aware that you have died? Or do you feel it’s not their business? Since we usually don’t pre-know the exact moment of our passing and can’t let e-friends know in advance, do you feel they have a right to this knowledge? Would you want to know that if any of your e-friends suddenly disappeared, it was due to their death?
Whatever your thoughts on this, remember that friendships are valuable. No matter how they are formed. Or where.
And then there are our critter friends… but that’s another post entirely!
You have already been acquainted with my view of this subject, and Janet is definitely with the M3 style with the questions. Let’s get a real discussion going. You are more than welcome to answer anyone’s comments as well as answering the questions yourself.