On Online Friendship Protocols

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.


  • Hmmmmm well I think there’s a big difference in the meaning of those gestures you’re referring to between cyber interaction with your real life physical friends and cyber interaction with your “online friends”. Not responding to an email or ignoring a comment from an “online friend/acquaintance” is different from doing the same with a someone you know in the real world.

  • well, I learned (the hard way) to minimize online personal communication for the same reasons you mentioned in your post. I sometimes get facebook messages from some people on my friends list who I can honestly call friends asking me if I’m mad at them, and the reason of course is because it takes me days to reply to messages sometimes. I decided not to take online relationships seriously. It’s not easy but with a bad short-term memory like mine, I can easily forget that a “friend” didn’t reply back to my email or didn’t write back on my wall.

    you know what, if you suck at communication in general then you’ll suck even more at online communication, because it’s supposedly easier to send an fb message and throw a sheep at someone (again using an fb application) than answering your phone immediately or return a call in the same day especially if you don’t particularly like that person.

    Is it really rude not to poke back or send a birthday gift using the free gifts application? if I’m tagged in a note, do I have to comment? I don’t know, and I think the best thing to do is not to care much about it, after all, it’s crazy to get upset because you’ve been throwing food at someone but he/she wouldn’t throw something back.

    And what’s with the zombie thing?

    Everybody is upset with me because I don’t sign in my msn! since when is that an obligation??

    True friendship is when you don’t feel obliged to connect with someone, you just do it because you want to.

    P.S Happy Eid to you and your family ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I’m done discussing this topic long go… I’m just replying out of courtesy :p

    First, online friendship depends on the person him/herself, ome people might get off on it much better that face to face relations. For me, I think the best thing in online eltions is that you don’t get to have any eye contact, which I suck at miserably, especially when I’m talking to more than one person, I sometimes jsut gaze forward or, if I could, at the roof…

    However, online friendship is more prone to be misunderstood, because it lacks body language and physical gestures, but this also good be a good point for someone who has trouble expresing their feelings. cyber hugs are much more easier than real ones…

    By the way, is there anything more stupid than reading a minifeed on facebook telling you that a wife and her husband are now friends? lol I think they should change the “friend” to “contact” or whatever

  • asoom: that’s very true

    Shaden: your definition of ‘true friendship’ is superb. happy eid to you and your family as well!

    Ola: well it helps if the married couple are also facebook friends!

    and thank you for being courteous! ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Nas, wow man, you really have plenty of questions on your mind! First of all Happy Eid to you and everybody on your blog.

    Look, I personally think these friendships/acquaintances are a bit tricky; but hey, a friend once told me that acquaintances are the new friendships, and I think that is relatively true. My really, really best friends, I mean the ones that know perhaps absolutely everything about me, do not even live here. They even hate the fact that I can’t see them this Eid.

    I think that you need a certain criteria to define who’s really a friend and who is just an acquaintance. For instance, some people define friends as people who can keep a secret. Some define friends as people they can confide in or trust, or people that tend to agree on just about everything.

    From a personal view, friends to me are people that really give me the time of day. A person who calls from time to time just to check up on me, or somebody who cares enough or trusts me enough to seek advice. However, the thing that I’ve noticed about Amman, is that people tend to build these walls are almost impossible to breach. You just cannot seem to get past the acquaintance part with some people, and I think that’s justifiable. Amman is just too tiny to be friends with plenty of people, and chances are, the more people you know, the higher your chances will hike up to be hurt from these people or to be stabbed in the back. In the end, you really need to define who’s a friend and who’s just good company. A friend could be somebody you’ve known from school, or somebody you’ve worked with for just 3 months.

    As for this poking business, I still do not get it frankly. Trying to figure out, but as for the friends’ list, well, I normally do accept the friend’s request, but after 2 months or so I just block the people that never bother to write on my wall or ask about me. I hate being just a number on somebody’s friend list.

    By the way, what’s nudging?

  • and what happens when someone adds you to their limited profile? do you add them to yours? what happens when someone adds you then months later they defriend you? crazy FB, I swear it’s a crazy world out there. My sister told me the other day, “I’m going to delete anyone on my list who wouldn’t say hi to me if we were on the same elevator”. Apparently she saw someone who ignored her on the elevator even though they were on her FB friends list ๐Ÿ™‚ Awkward indeed!
    p.s. enjoy the barrage of Eid Mubarak posts on your wall this week ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Well, i don’t really trust online relationships; if it’s a person you actually know, then it’s ok (although you got to watch out how you “interact”, or your relationship goes down the drain), but people you’ve never met before, well, they might be lying for all you know.
    I think Facebook’s just a waste of time; it’s pointless, boring and uninformative.All you do is add your friends and look at their pictures, sometimes chat, and look for other new friends.All my classmates are in it, and until now i got about 50 facebook invitations; i deleted them all -__-
    First it was Hi5, then tagged (or something), and now it’s Facebook.I guess people with nothing useful to do always come up with something to do, however stupid.
    One more thing, everything has a positive side and a negative side, it just depends on how you use it.So, i’d prefer staying away from online relationships (maybe just a few), and in that way i won’t be wasting my time or getting caught up in problems.

  • Perfect timing for this
    What about when you are truly busy or just need space from people..it’s so hard to get away ..you can’t hide!your life is a public profile.
    if someone calls you and you don’t answer then they find you on msn, or keep track of your newsfeed on facebook, give you crap about a wall comment that proves you called someone else, accusations of chat cheating, giving a cold shoulder…etc.

    The door swings both ways
    You call someone and everything seems ok and you are relieved that they are happy to talk to you, and then they go back to ignoring both the emotional sms you send afterwards and the inbox msg for follow up. No i don’t make time-zone sensitive thoughtful very long distance calls all the time, this meant soemthing!! Then you see their busy Mini-feed and realize you’re an idiot…they can’t hide from you either, you grin evily at the same technology that you hated earlier.

    True frienship to me is what makes me not see someone for years but then when i do get in contact with them there is that genuine care and nostalgic familiarity, it’s a sparkle that never fades. bedoon mojamalaat, without 3atab of where have you been …but just gratefulness for being here right now

  • That is excatly why I never log onto MSN and I don’t have a Facebook account!! I mean, these programs tend to oblige you to share your whole life with others (sometimes others with whom you do not particularly want to share your most intimate pictures or most inner thoughts).. some people literally have their entire lives on Facebook and I find that scandelous to say that least!

  • so first kol 3am o inta bkher. ๐Ÿ™‚

    second, man i agreeits very confusing these nonwriten protocols.

    i dont know someone needs to put some book or international agreement about this.

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