Advantages of Internet Friendships

The methods through which we create and maintain relationships are constantly changing, with recent decades boosting the move from a purely location-based model to one where relationships can spawn and develop remotely, thanks to the Internet (and, to a lesser degree, the telephone and mail systems). However, while this new way of creating and maintaining relationships has distinct advantages over the ‘traditional’ concept of location-based friendship creation, many perceive it as inferior.

Taking his cue from a quote that did the rounds on Twitter last year–Twitter makes me like people I’ve never met and Facebook makes me hate people I know in real life–David Hayes attempts to shed light on the advantages of Internet-originating relationships by perfectly describing the way friendship creation has evolved over time (by means of describing the constraints to doing so). The conclusion echoes my sentiments exactly:

I view the higher value placed on place-originating (or “real-life”) friendships as wrongheaded. It seems only logical to me that it is better to build your relationships from a pool of people who speak your language and have similar soft-qualities to you, than to attempt to start from a geographically constrained group and then attempt to find soft-quality matches in a face-to-face series of interactions. This is fundamentally what the internet allows: the friendship process to start from a set of commonalities around soft attributes, and then potentially aim for geographic matching. This is the opposite of the standard process, but certainly the one more likely to yield deep and long-lasting relationships.

Interestingly, even though our only communication has been through numerous backlinks and a couple of tweets, I wouldn’t hesitate in calling David a friend. Most likely, the majority of my Facebook friends (i.e. my physical world originating friends) would not understand this.



6 responses to “Advantages of Internet Friendships”

  1. I have a half-baked theory that the internet creates a possibility of asymmetric intimacy that has no precedent. I feel closer, in some ways, to a few of the people I follow on the internet than I do to people in (even this far) my own family. It’s strange because, of course, many of these people wouldn’t know me from Adam and yet the portrait they’ve put online feels real and familiar and comfortable. I feel like our relationship is this asymmetry, but in both directions. It’s not just me paying attention to, say, John Gruber, but each of us paying attention to each other.

    This is somewhat similar to what one imagines two 19th century authors, fans of each others work, might have felt. Unlikely to meet but perhaps having exchanged a few cordial letters, they’d know each other well, but also not at all. The obvious difference is that today people can publish such a diversity of stuff (essays, notes, quips about the mundanities of their life, public conversations, etc) that if someone wants to pay attention, they can get a much fuller picture of who a person is than the entire corpus of a 19th century author would ever be likely to give.

    Like I said, this is half-baked. Though now I’m thinking I may be able to make an essay of it.

  2. Adam Isom

    Actually, this just crystallizes something I’ve been recently thinking myself, and that perhaps I should be cautious with this feeling unless it’s useful, that is, unless it’s a two-way relationship (or symmetry).
    Thanks for sharing, fellow Lone Gunman fan. (Y’know, I wonder why it’s called that…)

  3. @David I love this analogy of two 19th century authors in correspondence.

    After years of following a person’s online activity on various sites (i.e. short-form and long-form blogs, Twitter feeds, flickr accounts, etc.), it can feel like I’ve read their autobiography, albeit an extremely detailed, near-real-time autobiography that is in some way tailored to a specific sub-set of the public.

    This is where the asymmetry comes in, and unless this is reciprocated, there it will remain (I presume).

    I guess the open questions are to what degree can this be reciprocated, and what is left out from these 21st century authors’ correspondence that can still limit a symmetrical relationship’s progress and/or maintenance?

  4. @Adam It’s interesting, but we can’t just presume that symmetry = good, right?

    A lot of my online-only relationships are one-way, with me following people who I know are not interested in a lot of what I post. However I still benefit greatly from these relationships as they open up opportunities and expand my horizons (e.g. posting on a topic I am not typically interested in).

    I find the main problems to be managing the amount of information coming from these many asymmetric relationships and finding new people to follow.

    When you say “Y’know, I won­der why it’s called that…”, are you referring to ‘Lone Gunman’?

    I get that question fairly often, so you’ve just prompted me to update my ‘About‘ page. Have a look there for a description.

  5. Jonathan Blake

    Ah, but internet-only friends can’t help you move apartments or babysit your kids. There are definite advantages to the geographically limited model.

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