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.
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.