During my visit to South Africa in February, I was chatting online with my husband one day when my mom passed by on her way to the kitchen. She caught a glimpse of the computer screen and asked me what “LOL” meant. The ensuing discussion about online communication morphed into a conversation about my Internet friendships. My mom was astounded to learn that there are people I regard as good friends without ever having met them in person.
When I was a kid, there was no such thing as an online friendship. We were best friends with the people we went to school with or lived next door to. When we met people our age on vacation, we exchanged addresses with them (not addresses of the email variety), wrote to them once or twice, and then relegated them to our collection of fond memories. We didn’t maintain friendships with people we didn’t see regularly because it just wasn’t practical.
By contrast, the vast majority of my friends today are online friends, and a number of my “real life” friendships originated on the Internet. Some people who would not be able to recognize me on the street have entrusted me with sensitive details about their lives. I have given and received advice, and shared all kinds of joys and sorrows with people I know only through the magic of technology. From time to time, I arrange to meet one of my online friends in real life, and it’s always worked out well. (more…)