Are your online friends really your friends?

Yesterday I read some rather horrible things written about me on the net, from someone I considered a friend. They were obviously angry with me (and some of that justified) and felt the need to vent on their blog.

Which is my little intro for something I’ve been thinking about for some time, and that is this new internet social network we have come to see as integral to our lives. And for most of us it is, I mean where else are writers, publishers, reviews, etc. all going to build up networks, find out about new markets, hear about new books, make new like-minded friends if not for the www?

But at times it comes with a price, as I’m sure we’ve all found out and surely nothing beats actually seeing these people and talking face to face, does it. I mean, does it?

Well funnily enough I have spoken to several people online who consider this a forum to be comfortable in, to be themselves, or at least who they would be if they weren’t socially uncomfortable and tended to freeze in pubic gatherings.

I am very much for meeting the people I work with, those that write for me, and those that I interact with on the net, to get a better sense of who they are, and to, quite simply, get to know them better.

Yet I know not all agree with me here and I accept that, for we are all different, all have our own comfort zones, and just as I feel much more comfortable chatting to people over a beer or a coffee, or even, failing that, Skype being the next best thing, I know some people would rather IM, tweet or blog.

My other reason for preferring the face-to-face contact is that I feel much more comfortable in future contact with the person, feeling that I have got a sense of who they are from our meeting and where our relationship/friendship lies. No matter how well I get on with somebody online, and there are a few reading this who I care deeply for, I always have that sense of dread that when I meet them, that our personalities are not going to match at all. I say this because it’s already happened and I say this because I am aware that not everybody is in person how they are online.

Even myself, I was shocked to find, when travelling to Australia, was told by a writer that they had even though they read my Live Journal, thought I was a bit of a dick (they may not have used those words but I do like to embellish!) yet meeting me in person thought I was quite nice really and even put the family up for one night on our five week journey through the country.

And very recently, on my last visit to England, one of the friends I met for the first time had been a little apprehensive, as even though he thought I was a nice guy, felt I was maybe a little ‘prickly’. He decided upon finally meeting me that I wasn’t prickly at all.

Here is where it’s tricky though, as I can definitely see myself as prickly and am a very reactive person, which not everyone takes to (for different reasons). However, I feel that I am this way when provoked, rather than when having a sit down chat with friends. Which is why I was similarly surprised when a friend round at ours the other week said I was a very calm person. Did she mean when I sit with friends and have a coffee and a chat (who isn’t then?).

Over the years online, first with IMs, Live Journal and Blogger, and later with Facebook, Twitter and Skype, I’ve met a lot of people and have tried to meet as many of those in person as I can, at cons, when visiting England, Australia (the US when I do next) and generally the people I meet match up to their online personas.

Meeting people like Amanda Pillar, Carole Johnstone, Lorna Johnstone, Mike Stone, Gary McMahon, Kaaron Warren, Robert Hood, Cat Sparks, Deborah Biancotti, Andrew McKiernan, Ross Temple, Nicole Murphy, Donna Hanson, Paul Finch, Joseph D’Lacey, Ian Whates, Chaz Brenchley, Peter Ball, Sharon Kae Reamer, Allyson Bird and many others has been a joy, and has made me feel like I actually know them much more than if we had just shared the odd e-mail back and forth.

I am aware that I have some pretty damn good online friends too, who I have yet to meet but the hope is that I can change that soon and lay those fears to rest.

I’m not sure I had a point here but was just curious about how the rest of you see this world of online communication – is it the bright new future, or is it all a bit scary?

About Mark S. Deniz

English teacher, writer, editor, publisher, reviewer and blogger. Founder of publishing company, Morrigan Books and imprint, Gilgamesh Press and editor-in-chief for review site, Beyond Fiction. Also cycles, plays floorball, listens to lots and lots of music, reads a ton of books and tries to fit in some TV, film and writing too. View all posts by Mark S. Deniz

4 responses to “Are your online friends really your friends?

  • M.E. Staton

    This is a good topic. Funny, I don’t find the internet version of you as prickly or in anyway “a bit of a dick” perhaps when we meet in person I feel that you are! LOL I hope not.

    I’ve been online so long and have had so many different styles of ‘web life’ it’s hard to remember where I started, but I’ve often found that friends come and go on the internet. Many fade away after meeting in real life. Some people I’ve managed to hang on to over the years and things like Facebook keep us connected even though we aren’t doing much chatting or email exchanging anymore. They are people I still like to have some kind of contact with.

    I would have to say that I don’t get uber close to people online anymore, having had too many bad experiences. I prefer to make my lasting relationships in the real world. So I understand the desire to meet people you find interesting on the internet for real. In the writing community there have been more people that I’ve met online and then hit it off with offline which is always a bonus, but it isn’t a given. You simply can’t be friends with everyone.

    As for blogging, internet writing. It’s quite easy for people to get the wrong impression of you even if you try to work your articles very carefully. People just read their own meanings into things. They do it in the real world too so it’s no surprise they carry over all their emotional drama to the internet.

    I just try to be myself, but a bit more toned down at times. I always have to remind myself that I can’t control others perceptions of me. As long as I am honest that’s all I can do. It’s hard though, we all want to be liked.

    • markdeniz

      Well you see, you’ve brought up a point I missed out on there, the one regarding how people can misread what you’ve written, as one of the reasons the ‘friend’ went off the boil last night was due to something they preceived I had said, when that was not the case at all. This happens a lot on forums and in all net contact and I was involved in one such forum this week which got pretty heated due to one writer’s assumed comment.

      And I’m very much looking forward to meeting yourself in person!

  • Cate Gardner

    I suppose I would have to know my online friends perceptions of me to say if they have me right or not. I’m a lot quieter in real life (at times) and at others (especially if I know you), I can drive you insane with my chattering. As to question, I’d like to think so, but time alone will prove that.

  • Katey

    The internet lets people feel like they can drop social forms, and possibly turn off their amygdala altogether, I think. If you’d said something they misinterpreted in real life, they probably would’ve stopped you right there and said, “Hey, that hurt my feelings, man.” And then you would’ve talked it out like normal people and all would be well. On the net, you get someone venting to a bunch of other strangers because hey, it’s the net!

    I’ve been really lucky in my online friends over the last decade or so. The ones I’ve met in person have been exactly as they are online. In every case, once we’ve met up, we’ve done it over and over. (That said my two best friends are from school, when I was 6 and 14.) So come on over to DC!😀

    Yeah, I’ve met some super jerks on the net too, but I’ve been lucky enough to avoid face-to-face visits on those counts. I’ve heard some horror stories– or at least extremely awkward stories.

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