The Second Question

In the previous post, we established that in the correct circumstances, you can get to know a person online. I went to Jordan to answer that question, but came back with one much more complicated…

Question number two: Are tweeps friends?

There are people online who know about me way more than any person in my real life can boast, but that alone does not describe friendship. Shared memories, experiences, affection, empathy, interest in the well-being of the other and a sense of a connected future are some friendship factors that need to be considered.

Do you have any idea how I feel?

You can’t have any experiences with someone you’ve never met in real life. You can’t share the unique atmosphere of your favorite restaurant, the taste of your grandma’s cupcakes, the pain and exhaustion you feel all over after playing a basketball game with them. One thing the internet can’t get around is sensory input, an essential ingredient  in living an experience with a friend.

It’s not all that bad though, with good prose, someone blogging about painting his newly bought house can make you smell the freshly applied coat of lime green. An excited status update from someone who was admitted to his dream college with a dozen comments and likes will be remembered for years by all. Relying on memory or imagination, if you know “exactly how it feels”, you might be able to empathize. Usually it’s not the case, and unless the person has a gift of accurate descriptions you can relate to, this obstacle will stay.

Another huge issue is the lack of body language, facial expressions. You can’t know if what you said shocked people, or made them smile, if the person in front of you is interested in what you have to say, or even if they are in the mood to chat. What if you’re mad at a person, how can you show it, without actually saying it?

We have more headway on this one, with diverse emoticons “although their meaning sometimes changes from person to person, you need like two weeks to figure it out”, and what I call chat body language, for example how when you’re mad your replies get shorter and your “….”s increase. The problem with both is that they are voluntary. If you are not open about how you really feel, even if you type the opposite emoticon, no one can figure it out.

The third restriction is that nothing of value can be done on the internet. Let’s face it, it’s free, you don’t have to buy presents on birthdays, pay for dinners, you’re not even paying a phone or sms bundle. The ease of access makes an online friendship seem less valuable, less serious. How would you feel if your friend said he has to leave the party an hour early because he has an important chat with someone he’s never met?

I absolutely disagree with the last one personally, maybe because I judge my friendships based on time, the most valuable resource. It flatters me when a person loses sleep because we were chatting for hours. How much a person is willing to give up to be there for you works even on the interwebs. The other two are true however, for an online friendship to work you need both sides to be extremely open about their emotions, inclusive and detailed about their experiences.

Do you know how your real life friends can be obnoxious on facebook, boring on twitter, and downright annoying on MSN? It’s because of these obstacles. Luckily many of us have learned how to bypass and adapt them, get our message across. If you have the skills, patience, and open mind, you can have a close friendship despite the above.

The cards favor online relationships even more in our region, where so many groups, classes, lifestyles you’ll have no chance of experiencing in real life. Online relationships have made me understand Syria and the Middle East in general for what it truly is, not the way media or even apologists want me to see. The hardships seem trivial when you think about all the diverse fantastic people you get to connect with, how close to your heart they can become.

I don’t think I know my final answer to question number two, but I hope it’s yes, I’ll be losing so many wonderful people if it turns out otherwise.

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5 Comments on “The Second Question”

  1. Joelle Says:

    I, too, have been thinking about the effect and role of social media as well as the people we meet therein in our lives. I agree with you. There are a lot of factors that play into friendship. And friendship means different things to different people. But I’ve met wonderful tweeps through Twitter that I’m happy to call friends.

  2. Layla Says:

    What is friendship?
    Isn’t a collection of good memories from shared moments you have spent with a person…? That’s for me friendship; well there are a lot more things… like, trust in the other person too. Isn’t that achievable via net? I think it is if both persons really want to know each other.

    But what is the difference between a friend your have met in your ordinary life and a friend you have met on-line?
    For me the main difference is that you can’t shared “physical” experiences with them like going out to the same places at the same time or sitting down together… but it doesn’t mean they are less worth it than friends you can see everyday, what’s more this type of friends (everyday friends) usually don’t give much attention to what you feel or have to say cause, in a way, they are used to see you…

    In all, I’ve met great people via net… Facebook and Twitter… I can’t say the same about ordinary life… where is kind of harder to get to know somebody whose interest are similar to yours or want to share both opinions or thoughts about something.

    One of your followers on Twitter, peace!!!!


  3. Haitham Al-Sheeshany Says:

    I`m glad yr answer is skewed toward “yes” 🙂

    This sentence is playing in my head still though… “One thing the internet can’t get around is sensory input, an essential ingredient in living an experience with a friend”


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