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 thoughts on “Advantages of Internet Friendships

  1. david

    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. Lloyd Morgan Post author

    @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. Lloyd Morgan Post author

    @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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