Is a digital friendship really a friendship?

On the most recent episode of the podcast Literary Disco, one of the hosts (Tod Goldberg) talked about his relationship with author Ron Currie, Jr.

Goldberg frequently referred to Currie as his “friend” and mentioned specific conversations they have had, and then said that he had actually never met the man. They only knew each other over the internet.

I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon a lot lately, as I have gotten to know someone over the past year or so mostly via emails and Twitter and never know if I should refer to her as my friend or not.

Can you truly be a “friend” if the entire relationship is digital?

I actually reveal a lot more of my true self on-line than I do in person. You are much more likely to know my inner thoughts and understand my belief system if you read my blog than if you sit down for a cup of coffee with me.

I’m not a chatterer. In conversations I tend to let the other person talk. And I ask questions to keep them talking about them when the discussion comes back to me.

My stories, when I do share them, are short and succinct. I have no verbal affinity for the details that make a story interesting and engaging. I make my point and shut up.

Sometimes I even skip the “make the point” part.

But in writing (i.e. this blog), I expound. I share. I have written things that I would never say aloud, not because I’m embarrassed by them but because it wouldn’t occur to me to speak them.

So if person gets to know me, and I get to know them, over the internet, maybe they are better than in-person friends. Perhaps that is even more personal than a “real” friendship.

In Susan Cain’s Quiet, she writes that the internet has been helpful to introverts who have trouble or don’t care to share intimacies in person. The computer adds a physical barrier that makes us more comfortable and we’re more likely to do what I just described above.

Even so, I still struggle calling my digital acquaintances “friends.”

Maybe that’s because it’s so easy to lie on-line.

I don’t lie in my blog, but I have been known to dramatize an event a time or two to make it more interesting.

And while I don’t misrepresent my views, I might take a slightly stronger stand on an issue just to get a reaction.

But over the internet, there aren’t any physical cues to read that indicate a person is lying or dramatizing.

Let’s face it, you can’t really know if I’m just bullshitting you with every blog post or being my true self because you can’t look me in the eye. You can’t see my face.

(Just for the record, I’m not bullshitting. I promise.)

So what are the people we communicate with primarily on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Goodreads, email, text message, etc.?

Are they friends like Tod Goldberg suggests or do we need a new term? E-buds? Or digipals? Or, my favorite, intermates?

And how do these people rank on the friendship scale? Can you be best friends with someone you’ve never met? Or will our intermates always be a rung or two below the people we have a face-to-face relationship with?

One thought on “Is a digital friendship really a friendship?

  1. When I was a teenager I had pen-pals all over the world and though we had never met face to face I still considered them friends. I don’t think “knowing” someone online is any different.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s