"Fishfucker turned out to be a really nice dude."
March 5, 2015 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Your Internet Friends Are Real: A Defense of Online Intimacy, by Kyle Chayka for TNR:
The perception that online relationships are somehow less real than their physical counterparts exemplifies what Nathan Jurgenson, a New York-based sociologist and researcher for the messaging platform Snapchat, calls "digital dualism." Contemporary identities and relationships are no more or less authentic in either space. "We're coming to terms with there being just one reality and digital is part of it, not any less real or true," Jurgenson said. "What you do online and what you do face-to-face are completely interwoven."
(Keep an eye out for a brief in-article cameo from our once and always fearless leader!)

A few more essays on URL/IRL friendships...

Rebecca Carroll for The Guardian: How do you tell who's a real friend and who's just a 'Friend' on the internet?
Being eliminated from a friend's life used to mean ignored phone calls and mutual, public recriminations to third parties; today, it's as easy as untagging yourself from an ussie and clicking unfollow on Twitter. On the other side, you're at even more of a loss when you click on the profile of a Twitter friend with whom you'd had a long and fruitful online discussion the day before and see a blank space where it used to say "FOLLOWS YOU." Every time you log-in, wherever it may be, you could find yourself invisible to someone you thought was your friend, and found out was only a fair-weather follower.
Jazmine Hughes for NYT's Room for Debate: Real Relationships in a Digital World?
It's easy to dismiss friendships that originate online as superficial, with the broad assertion that no one is their "true" self online, but instead a distilled curation of snapshots, quips and restaurant check-ins, all rolled into one cohesive personal "brand." But why can't our social media presences serve as a primer to our real-life selves, a tangible way to say, "What you see is what you get?" There's a person behind that hashtag.
Jenna Hatfield for BlogHer: Don't Tell Me They're Not Real: Internet Friends Are Real Life Friends
They text me to announce their big news before they share it with the greater social media presence. They show up at the funeral home, the hospital, the grieving places in between even though it's not close, it's not convenient. When they can't show up in those places, they send flowers. They send emails, text messages, snail mail letters, packages to me, to my children. They know that December 13th will always be the hardest day of my year and they reach out with love, with compassion, with empathy. They cheer me on every time I run a race or even just go out and run. They celebrate with me when I do something I've been wanting to do for so long. They cry with me when my heart is breaking. They cover my whole family in love as we prepare to say goodbye to my grandmother.

I'm not discounting the friends I've made in real life. They are equally special. They came to me in their own ways—high school, college, my lactation consultant, church, mothers' groups, the school system, friends of my husband, work. They also show up in the places that matter. They meet me for coffee once a week. They attend my kids' birthday parties. They rearrange schedules to meet me for dinner when I desperately need adult interaction.

But the people who live in my computer (and smartphone, for that matter) matter just as much. The connections, the care, the love? Those are all just as real.
Tricia Chan for Thought Catalog: A Thank You Letter To The Friends You Make Online
The circumstances may be virtual, yes, but the bond that you create is real. You share a piece of you to the person on the other end of the web; laughing until your belly can’t stand the pain, crying to the point where it was almost impossible to breathe, celebrating an accomplishment, being an ear for each other's frustrations... you share raw emotions. It's liberating. And no questions asked, you do the same for them.
posted by divined by radio (55 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wait ... you people EXIST?
posted by kyrademon at 11:35 AM on March 5, 2015 [27 favorites]


For the past four years I've maintained an on-line friendship with someone I have never met who lives in Calgary. I live in Niagara Falls. We met on twitter through a mutual interest/followers related to running and reading. I tweeted that I was having trouble reading a particular book by Vladimir Nabokov and she tweeted back that she'd love to read it with me. We then created a blog devoted to our reading and through chatting and e-mails have basically become the best of friends.

She's someone I write or message when I am feeling upset or concerned about something. She's married and has a family and her husband knows about my friendship with her. Various partners I've had in the past few years have also been fully aware of her. It's never really been weird between us. We've never once thought that this friendship is anything out of the ordinary. We have even made plans to run a marathon together by the end of this year.

I've established several IRL (in real life) friendships through twitter. I've told other people about this and it still shocks me how people react. As if a random encounter/friendship online is any less meaningful than the one you establish at the book-store or at the bar.

Friendship is what you choose to make it. And I've made some amazing friendships with people I've never met, though I some day hope to.
posted by Fizz at 11:38 AM on March 5, 2015 [23 favorites]


About 10 years ago, I started participating in an ad hoc online eating disorders support group. To this day, I have only ever met 2 of them IRL, but we have all been there for each others weddings, babies, stillbirths, graduations, new jobs, recoveries, relapses, hospitalizations and breakthroughs. I love these women and one guy like they were my sisters and brother. I don't know how (or if) I ever would have made it this far in my recovery had I not found this incredible group on three continents.

Not real friends, my eating disordered ass.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:49 AM on March 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


"IRC, or Internet Relay Chats, were likewise segregated along topical channels, like #anime or #hardware or #geek. The platform peaked in the 1990s with Eris Free Network, and today is largely reserved for illicit hacker groups with a need for anonymity."

That last statement is entirely untrue. There are plenty of active rooms on Freenode, for instance, full of people talking about the things they've always talked about in IRC. Hell, #math helped me pass Linear Algebra just a couple of years ago. If they had done just a little research into how active IRC still is today, they might've realized that it's not just a meeting place for script kiddies and botnet operators.
posted by unknownmosquito at 11:49 AM on March 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


"Fishfucker turned out to be a really nice dude."

This is true, btw.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:05 PM on March 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


Back when I was in middle school, I spent hours on the AOL chatrooms devoted to Lord of the Rings playing a knockoff version of DnD which involved lots of 12 and 13 year olds pretending to be elves and hobbits and Rohirrim late into the night. There was another girl who I chatted with intermittently, and when we finally asl-ed, realized that she lived in the next town over from me and, in fact, was starting her freshman year at the same high school I was about to. I have never felt less alone in the world as realizing that there were going to be awesome, nerdy, interesting people both on the internet AND in real life probably forever. And I can't wait to go to her wedding this coming summer and give a really embarrassing toast about the origins of our friendship!
posted by ChuraChura at 12:06 PM on March 5, 2015 [27 favorites]


Friendship is what you choose to make it. And I've made some amazing friendships with people I've never met, though I some day hope to.

This. I have several online friends whom I've known for well over 20 years. Some I've also known IRL for quite a while, some I just met IRL once, and some I have yet to meet (though I'd like to!). And they're as much my friends as the ones I've made in person.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:08 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Really disappointed at the lack of a "fishfucker" tag
posted by MysticMCJ at 12:11 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I LOVE WHEN MADAMJUJUJIVE TALKS DIRTY TO ME
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 12:11 PM on March 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


My Internet friends are surreal.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:18 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


There ain't no such thing as a Brand New Day out in the Real World.
posted by bukvich at 12:18 PM on March 5, 2015


Wait ... you people EXIST?

Well...existing in your head is a kind of existing.
posted by yoink at 12:22 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah there is still this divide between "Internet vs Real Life" ("someone is wrong on the internet.") and "The Internet is Real Life" ("There are only two hard problems in computer science: cache invalidation and rampant misogyny.") that we seriously need to figure out. Unfortunately the Internet officially ended yesterday after 16 years, so.
posted by wam at 12:22 PM on March 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


My very first online date was in 1988, over a university VAX system. To this day, he still holds the record as the worst kisser ever.
posted by Melismata at 12:25 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I consider a few people here extremely close friends and we've never met IRL (and some I did meet here and see regularly, you know who you are). These are people who I can't imagine living without. We skype, text, hang out on chat, are facebook friends etc. The digital world to me is just as real as anything else. At the end of the day our universe is all the same energy expressed in one form or another, so why is carbon-based friendship considered more valuable than electron-based friendship? They augment each other IMO.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:26 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I should share that I talked to this reporter for a good long while (45min?) and the fishfucker line was the definitely the highlight, but I was surprised to see all that interview time just end up being one or two sentences in the larger piece.
posted by mathowie at 12:27 PM on March 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


Real love for my online friends, online love for my real friends.
posted by maryr at 12:29 PM on March 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


My very first online date was in 1988, over a university VAX system. Sounds like a very baud-y relationship. To this day, he still holds the record as the worst kisser ever. Or maybe not.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:29 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


How do you kiss badly over VAX?

XXK?
posted by yoink at 12:30 PM on March 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


I was surprised to see all that interview time just end up being one or two sentences in the larger piece.

Unlike the friends you meet online, reporters aren't real people.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:30 PM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


How do you kiss badly over VAX?

No Oxford comma, no love.
posted by maryr at 12:31 PM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Really disappointed at the lack of a "fishfucker" tag

FTFY.
posted by divined by radio at 12:32 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


How do you kiss badly over VAX?

Too much byting of the wrong bits.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:33 PM on March 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


I've said this in another thread, but I think it bears repeating here, because it makes for interesting origin stories: Elizabeth Spiers met Nick Denton at a MeFi meetup (source: Spiers) and I think Choire Sicha met them the same way.

The article is fine, but I feel like it's a little wide-eyed about the phenomena, or trying too hard to prove what i think a lot of people pretty readily accept? I did my first IRL meeting in 1994 (have not remained friends) and my most recent four days ago (someone I've considered a good friend going on 5 years now). I think the longest online only friendship I could really claim (and we've drifted a lot) is about ten years.

Also: really could use some historical context (the best corollary being epistolary novels, etc.).
posted by 99_ at 12:35 PM on March 5, 2015


How do you tell who's a real friend and who's just a ‘Friend’ on the internet?

Uh, one shows up to bail you out of jail and one sends a #sympathetic tweet? From that same piece,
"Still, we all throw around the word “friend” to describe almost anyone with whom we’re vaguely acquainted and don’t already hate."
I don't. Everyone in my life is pretty firmly sorted between "family," friends," "acquaintances," and "entertaining people on the internet." And I could sort all that even more finely but that way lies madness. You lot are all largely fictional, some more so than others.

Now I wouldn't presume to tell someone else how to sort the people they encounter in their life, nor would I deny that feelings of intimacy can develop for between people who have never physically met. And obviously any given person can fall into more than one group, either at once or over time. But still, at least in my life, there's definitely a difference between a "friend" and a "friend on the internet" as much as there's a difference between "friend" and "acquaintance."

But mostly I just wanted to say "fishfucker."
posted by octobersurprise at 12:37 PM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


A real internet friend is a fishfucker, whereas that guy who just likes all your selfies is a fuckfisher.
posted by maryr at 12:41 PM on March 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


...And, yup, it's time for me to maybe step away from the puns.
posted by maryr at 12:42 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I agree, this was a bit wide-eyed. I've got a lot of Internet friends - one flies up from Australia to California to visit every year and stays for a month or two.

I've got a friend in London that I've never met who has offered to host me if I'm in the area. There are other cities, worldwide, where I know I can find a place to stay with an Internet friend if I need it.

I've met a lot of great folx via the Internet and go to occasional meetups. Just wish there was more MeFi stuff in the San Jose area; everyone seems to meet in SF and I do not like going into SF.
posted by caphector at 12:44 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


My wife was freaked out when I organized the cookie swap a few years ago and ate cookies from strangers.
posted by shothotbot at 12:49 PM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


There should be a magazine called "I interviewed a bunch of people from Metafilter and they said..." I mean, there already is Reply All which is that but for podcasts....
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:49 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


When I was young and new to the Internet and even more new to a city I had just moved to, I went online and joined a place called Barbelith because I was really into the Invisibles and pretty much any other weird comics. This was late 1998. Before the site finally imploded sometime in 2007/2008, I met and made so many friends from there. So many friends who went from being online entities to people who would come crash at my house if they happened to be passing through Atlanta, or I always had a place to stay and a person to hang out with if I were anywhere in the UK, Canada, Texas, North Carolina, Los Angeles, Florida, etc. I still know a lot of these people. We know each other as actual human beings now and not handles. I look forward to going to London every other year because it means serious pub time with Anna, Justin, Richard, Benjamin, Dan, etc. I love that at some point I will go see my friends Magnus and Bella (they remade my wedding ring for me because I lost it last year) in Birmingham (UK). Scott was the officiator at my wedding. These people I met nearly twenty years ago are people I email/tweet etc. and all because I went online looking for a community.

But the best thing Barbelith ever gave to me by far was meeting my husband (who in turn decamped Barbelith for here a looooong time ago and eventually gifted me a membership).
posted by Kitteh at 1:05 PM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


But one of the points of these links is that handles are actual human beings?
posted by Justinian at 1:17 PM on March 5, 2015


> But one of the points of these links is that handles are actual human beings?

Well, not all of them...
(Some are robots, some are cats, some are brains in vats, some are hyooomans...)
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:28 PM on March 5, 2015


Some are robots, some are cats, some are brains in vats

Doesn't quite scan. Let's try:

Some are robots, some are cats, some are brains in bubbling vats,
Some are trolls and some are shills and some forgot to take their pills
Some are funny, some are kind, and some have plainly lost their mind
Some are sad, some are weird, some are mods (and to be feared)
But all are here, at least today, so let's be friends--come what may.
posted by yoink at 1:35 PM on March 5, 2015 [32 favorites]


Some are robots, some are cats, some are brains in bubbling vats,
Some are trolls and some are shills and some forgot to take their pills
Some are funny, some are kind, and some have plainly lost their mind
Some are sad, some are weird, some are mods (and to be feared)
But all are here
at least today, so let's be friends--come what may. to be inspired, except for Matt--he just retired.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:45 PM on March 5, 2015 [15 favorites]


fishfucker
posted by notyou at 2:11 PM on March 5, 2015


Melismata: My very first online date was in 1988, over a university VAX system.

The kids today don't know the joy of checking your ASCII email on PINE while someone is phoning you on VAX.
posted by dr_dank at 2:22 PM on March 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


If we accept the equal value of virtual friendships to their IRL analogues (perhaps even doing away with the pejorative acronym), we open ourselves up to a range of new possibilities for connection.

IRL is pejorative? Or he trying to say that Internet Friends are somehow inferior to regular, in person friends -- or vice versa? Either way, I don't get it.
posted by me3dia at 2:30 PM on March 5, 2015


I met my spouse on the Internet! And not via a dating profile either. (Come to think of it, we got married by a friend I first met on the Internet, too.) I have Internet friends I've known for nearly a decade now.

That said, sure this seems wide-eyed to the people on Metafilter. You people by definition are people who spend some portion of your socializing time online, talking to people you met in an online context. Judging by the reactions I get when I try to explain how my spouse and I met to my coworkers and family, the notion that the Internet as a whole is teeming with serial killers, pedophiles and compulsive liars is most definitely alive and well.
posted by sciatrix at 2:30 PM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is a fascinating phenomenon. In ~25 years of actively taking the initiative to make real-life friends from online ones, it has been, 100%, a complete failure. I attempted to be real-life friends with some people who shared my passionate hobby, but they were boring. Went to a meetup.com social group that advertised as being appropriate for my age, but no one who went (except me) was my age. Went to another meetup that advertised watching a sporting event; when I got there, the people had decided to ditch the event and do something completely different that I couldn't relate to at all. I went to a few Metafilter meetups, and didn't once feel a desire to say to anyone hey, let's get together some time, even after making some normal small talk. I did go out on a date with a mefite once, and it was disastrous. Don't even get me started on regular online dating.

And I keep trying to figure out whether it's me, or them, or bad luck. The above situations (except for the mefi date, which was a clusterfuck) were all ones where I took the initiative to meet. Ok, so I'm terrible at picking people, fine. But no one except for the date (who was looking for a warm female) has ever taken the initiative for me, made a real effort to talk to me. It takes two to tango. What is the point of this? I have no idea. I am glad that it works for other people, I guess.
posted by sockerpup at 2:31 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was a member of the forum for the Half-Life mod Firearms since 2003, and I've been friends with and have met some of the people from there since I was 13 years old (I'm 26 now). I watched them go through high school, have girlfriends, go to war, go to college, turn into adults. It's a part of my life that is highly specific, but I've no issue bringing them into my "real life" and meeting my friends. They're just as real as my "real" friends. I love those guys and I'm glad I grew up this way.
posted by gucci mane at 3:12 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


My very first online date was in 1988, over a university VAX system. To this day, he still holds the record as the worst kisser ever.

I met my first real boyfriend via the IU VAX system in 1992. I swear, that was the best dating service on campus back in the day. : )
posted by SisterHavana at 3:18 PM on March 5, 2015


Anyone who thinks this is wide-eyed hasn't watched any local news lately. The sensationalistic story of "area person [most often a young white woman] meets random other from the scary internet who KILLS them" is very much alive and well, almost certainly out of proportion to how often it actually happens. My main home health client is ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED of the idea of meeting anyone (especially men) from the internet , even though I've explained the basic safety procedures one generally takes when meeting a person "from the internet" for the first time. (It goes along with her fear of mostly-black neighborhoods in my city, degenerate kids, and other fear-mongering story elements of the local news. The only heartening piece to me is that cops fall under the fearful things category too.)

My internet friends are real and dear to me personally; up until I took my current job, I assumed that most of the world took the idea that internet friends were a legit thing for granted. Seeing equally wide-eyed 90's-tastic "OMG the internet is a scary place" stories still flourishing is an eye opener.
posted by ActionPopulated at 3:33 PM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


When people say definitively that Internet relationships either are or are not "real" I think they have a limited perspective. There are parts of the Internet where people use real world identities, there are parts where people are pseudonymous but mostly "real" - like here - and parts where most people are indistinguishably anonymous or very intentionally playing games with identity. I like all of these versions of the Internet.
posted by atoxyl at 3:38 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


The kids today don't know the joy of checking your ASCII email on PINE while someone is phoning you on VAX.

PINE is for n00bs.

That last statement is entirely untrue. There are plenty of active rooms on Freenode, for instance, full of people talking about the things they've always talked about in IRC. Hell, #math helped me pass Linear Algebra just a couple of years ago. If they had done just a little research into how active IRC still is today, they might've realized that it's not just a meeting place for script kiddies and botnet operators.

Amen to that. I still hang out quite a bit on IRC these days.
posted by gyc at 3:39 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've been in the same MMO guild since 1998. I'm closer to some of those folks than I am my relatives.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:39 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Some of my favourite people are those I met online.

The woman whose fic I had read, who ended up in my library classes and bailed me up over the vintage erotic photos I'd used in a presentation and when I said "uh, so there's this thing called livejournal?" started an hour long conversation in the dreary concrete box of the building and a friendship still going ten years later. I stay with her when I visit, we lived together for a while, we're good friends.

Or the other woman, who was an ex of a friend, who I flamed. She responded with grace and kindness, I apologised, turns out we're soulmates. She was my bridesmaid, when I'd never met her IRL. I flew down and hung out with her for a while a month before the wedding.

Yeah, some of the people I know online are closer than relatives.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:44 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Most of the traveling I've done in the past 15 years has been in the company of friends from the internet. Many of those women were fellow members of one of two X-Files mailing lists I joined in 1999. We've had our ups and downs, and people have dropped away as life got complicated, but we've supported each other through divorces and marriages and babies, and deaths and illness, and moves and job changes.

I love the internet, and the fandom folks I've met through it, because almost anywhere I go in the US (and much of the world), I'll be able to get drinks with someone I know, and squee about Rogelio de la Vega or Sarah Manning. It's a good thing.
posted by suelac at 4:16 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I met my housemate, who is currently making chili in the next room, on the internet. There are people I have known online since I was 13 and still talk to regularly (I'm now 29; let us all take a moment to pour one out for the Table Talk boards at salon.com), and tbh most of the people I interact with socially in real life these days are people I either met online or met via people I met online.

I was at a fan meetup in NYC last fall and, at the bar after the event, realized that the girl sitting across the table from me was someone I had been friends with several fandoms ago and had lost touch with; we had never met in person before but we hugged like old friends reuniting. Which is what we were.

(When I was in high school, I wasn't allowed to meet people from the internet. I found this to be mightily unfair-- my dad met up with his internet friends (from the guitar posting board he moderated) all the time! My dad's rationale was that he was a large, semi-muscular man and I was a teenage girl with noodle arms, but I still say I was in the right on that one.)

eta: speak of the devil! Hi, suela.
posted by nonasuch at 4:40 PM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Hey, I know you! You're the 'fista we none of us believed was 13, because you were so together and sensible on the board. Say Hi to your housemate for me, yeah?

I refuse to believe you're 29. Because that would mean I'm... a lot older than that.
posted by suelac at 5:05 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Honestly, it's kind of freaking me out too, if that's any help.
posted by nonasuch at 5:22 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Something that gets overlooked is that the net can be a godsend for introverts who would otherwise get zero social interaction. Being able to meet folks and get to know them and have discussions without actually having to be physically present (and then deal with the consequent drain of energy) is great. I'd be way more socially isolated if I weren't interacting with people digitally.

Regarding the Rebecca Carroll essay — yeah, it's a weird feeling to discover that someone you thought you had a friendly relationship with online has suddenly unfollowed/unfriended you, and you can't think of what you might have done to trigger it. Cue fretting over Did I say something wrong? So wrong they couldn't even say "hey, that was fucked up"?
posted by Lexica at 5:45 PM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yesterday, I had a German exam. The essay portion of the exam was, in part, "What would your life be like without the internet?"

I ended up elaborating on how that question was, for me, largely unanswerable: I met my spouse online and our wedding was funded and coordinated by online friends. I moved to Europe because of this, and still use the internet as a primary way to talk with people in Canada. I now work remotely from Vienna for a company in Germany. In short, that my life without the internet would be so different that any answer would be alt-universe fiction.
posted by frimble at 12:50 AM on March 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


I met my husband in a Babylon 5 IRC chat room. It'll be 15 years of marriage this September.

In a few weeks, I'll be going down to the Harry Potter studio tour. By some weird twist of nerd fate, a friend of mine will be down there on exactly the same day, just an hour-and-a-half apart in tour times. We've known each other since around 2005. But she lives in Brooklyn and I live in Nottingham, and this will be the first time we actually meet in person.
posted by Katemonkey at 3:08 AM on March 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I ran into an old internet friend last night in Ingress chat. So that was weird.

I mean, not drawing Mizu for Secret Quonsar weird, but weird.
posted by maryr at 8:17 AM on March 6, 2015


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