I, along with everyone else, have a completely different definition of what friendship is and what it embodies. So many of the people I know personally are mentally categorized as mere acquaintances. But lately I’ve been wondering more and more about friendships formed online and the protocols that come along with them. We seem to spend so much time behind the screen that it only goes without saying that our online world is just as important as the real world. Technology has really transformed the way we perceive each other.
Take for example the following variety of cases:
What happens when you don’t know half the people on your MSN Messenger list? Or one of your friend’s thinks he or she is being blocked by you?
Do you absolutely feel obliged to accept that Facebook friend request? Is a poke just a way of annoying someone, or is it a form of flirting, or is it done merely out of instigating a stubborn poking war?
When does a telephone conversation or a live chat become too long?
How many SMS messages does it take for friendship to be misconstrued, built or ruined?
What happens when a friend writes you an important email and you respond to that important email with a similar important email but then they don’t email you back and of course you don’t want to ask if they received it because that would be awkward but at the same time weeks go by and they don’t email you back and those weeks turn into months and suddenly too much time has gone by without a word being uttered and the friendship gets tossed in no-man’s land?
What happens if you don’t join that Facebook group your friend just created and has invited you to?
Is an emoticon just an emoticon or can it be easily misunderstood as meaning something else?
Can nudging go to far?
What’s the maximum amount of time allowed to reply to an email?
Do you comment on someone’s blog out of respect, admiration or genuine interest in a topic?
What happens when someone suddenly changes their Facebook relationship status?
What happens when you just don’t log in for a long time? What happens when online friends message you to comment on your long absence, subtly hinting that it’s due to you avoiding them?
Technology has transformed the way we make friend, the way we maintain friendship and the way we destroy a friendship. The absence of the physical has created a virtual playground of misunderstandings that make the online landscape of friendship that much harder to navigate.
Technology promised us greater communication, and that’s not always a good thing. Making it this easy to communicate with people means raising the bar of expectations. You could probably go weeks without hearing from a particular person, but nowadays, a few hours or simply a day without an email, sms, call, inbox message or a carrier pigeon flying in through the window is a bit much. We’re always in touch with each other. Always. And it’s like camping with friends for 3 days, you just want to take a day off before seeing them again.
We don’t even catch up with each other anymore. Everyone knows everyone’s news. We know everything someone has done recently. We know their moods and even their conversations with other people; other friends. When people ask me what I’ve been up to, I no longer have any stories to tell. I’m immediately thinking about updating them with the last 24 hours of my life and the blank mind that emerges is the equivalent of someone asking you what you had for dinner last night.
Moreover, technology was meant to ease the difficulties and burdens of physical communications but it doesn’t seem to have fully accomplished that. The messes we make online may be harder to clean up than the face-to-face alternative. The absence of tone, of substance, of any physical indication of intentions, leaves every word spoken (or unspoken) with the potential for misinterpretation.
And so hours, if not days after a chat, you’ll still be thinking about your online friend’s choice of emoticon during a particular part of the overall conversation.