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The benefits of forming friendships with those we meet online are obvious, so why do people still make fun of the idea?
ANOTHER WEEK, another survey claiming to reveal great truths about ourselves. This one says that (shock horror!) people are increasingly turning ‘online friends’ into people they’d think worthy of calling real-life friends. Well, that’s stating the obvious, I would have thought! If there’s a more perfect place for making friends, I have yet to find it. However, when surveys like this are reported in the media, it’s always with a slight a of ‘It’s a crazy, crazy world!’ And whenever the subject crops up in conversation, it’s clear that people look down on friends like these. In fact some members of my family still refer to my partner of six years as my ‘internet boyfriend.’
It’s the shocked reaction that surprises me, as if people on the internet were not ‘real’ at all. Certainly, people play a character online quite often – they may be a more confident or more argumentative version of their real selves – but what’s the alternative? Is meeting people at work so much better than making friends in a virtual world? Perhaps, but for some a professional distance between their ‘work’ selves and their ‘social’ selves is necessary, especially if they tend to let their guard down and might say or do something they will later regret. And are people really much more themselves at a party than online?
Those people disapproving of online friendships argue that the concept of ‘friendship’ is used loosely in a world driven by technology, in which you might have a thousand online friends. They make a distinction between ‘social connections’ – acquaintances who are only a click away – and meaningful human interaction, which they say requires time and effort. They note that for many Facebook ‘friends’, conversation is a way of exchanging information quickly and efficiently rather than being a social activity. With its short sharp updates on what you’re thinking ‘right now’, Facebook has been criticised for encouraging rushed and therefore shallow friendships.
This may all have an element of truth. However, for the first time in history, we’re lucky enough to choose friends not by location or luck, but by those who have similar interests and senses of humour, or passionate feelings about the same things. And for people like me who might be a little shy – and there are plenty of us about – moving conversations from the net to a coffee shop is a much more natural process than people might expect. After having already made friends online, you can get rid of the social awkwardness that comes with trying to make a friend out of someone you don’t know at all. You can enjoy their company when you eventually meet, knowing that you have enough in common to sustain the friendship. The benefit is clear – you cut out all the boring small talk. What could be better?
Obviously, there will always be concerns about the dangers of online friendship. There are always stories buzzing around such as ‘man runs off with the woman he met on Second Life’ or people who meet their ‘soulmate’ online and are never seen again. But people are people are people, whether online or not. As for ‘real’ friendship dying out, surely social networking is simply redefining our notion of what this is in the twenty-first century? The figures – half a billion Facebook users worldwide – speak for themselves. And technology has allowed countless numbers of these people to keep in close contact with their loved ones, however far away they are. Without it, many disabled or housebound people might go without social contact at all. Call me naive, call me a social misfit, I don’t care. Virtual people make the best real friends.
1- The writer thinks the findings of the survey described in the first paragraph are
What does the subject refer to in line 8?
What does the phrase let their guard down mean in line 19?
According to the writer, online friendships are often criticised because
How does the writer feel about meeting up with her online friends?