the friends you make online
November 23, 2021 1:53 PM   Subscribe

These online relationships are often just as meaningful and rich and strange as my “real-life” friendships, but they’re more difficult to define. Maybe we’re still a little embarrassed? Or maybe we just need to stop waiting for definitions and do the work ourselves. I care too much about my online friends to just coast along in relationship limbo. This is an ode to digital friendships, a taxonomy of connections and disconnections.
posted by sciatrix (32 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
The friend whose kid is growing up before you very own, blue-lit eyes.
This really resonates with me, having seen any number of people I've never met live out their lives, getting married, having kids that grow up into real people and, while I've never met and will never meet them, feel just as real to me as people I've known all my life. They don't feel at all any less 'real' to me but, yes, difficult to define and even more difficult to explain.
posted by dg at 2:27 PM on November 23 [6 favorites]

"[Y]ou’re out here on the other side of the internet, wishing them well always." Yes, this.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:42 PM on November 23 [11 favorites]

"The friend you’ve known via social media for over a decade now, whom you meet for drinks or dinner every two or three years when you happen to be in the same town for work or vacation."

Knowing someone via social media for over a decade is something humanity has never experienced before this generation. How fascinating! I wonder how that alone is shaping our societies and relationships.
posted by rebent at 2:57 PM on November 23 [8 favorites]

This is really nice.

Knowing someone via social media for over a decade is something humanity has never experienced before this generation.

That's true, but for certain classes of certain people there were relationships conducted by letter.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:11 PM on November 23 [28 favorites]

One of my best friends in the whole world is someone I met online in the late 90's, when we both had some similar interests on AOL. The friendship was online-only for many a year, with a couple of IRL meetups when opportunities presented themselves, but not many because we lived on different sides of the country. But it was easily the closest friendship I had with anyone for a very long time, and all my memories of the early internet are colored by it. And now, 20-odd years later, work brought her to the same city I'm in, and she moved to the same neighborhood! She got to meet my kids, and we got to meet her dog and her husband. A couple summers back, she helped my then-6-year-old daughter catch a rogue escaped python someone spotted in the neighborhood, and my now-8-year-old daughter thinks this woman can walk short distances over water.

And then COVID happened, and we're back to virtual hangouts.

For nearly two decades, that story was always met with some level of skepticism when I told it, because a lot of people don't really understand friendships without physical proximity. Social media has changed that understanding, (though not always for the better) and I'm glad to see that taxonomy examined more closely.
posted by Mayor West at 3:26 PM on November 23 [17 favorites]

Ahhhhh, most excellent!
posted by Jesse the K at 3:26 PM on November 23

for certain classes of certain people there were relationships conducted by letter.

And whenever postage got cheaper the classes expanded -- the earliest inexpensive periodicals developed recognizable-to-us
communities in their letters sections, to the surprise of the publishers. (The journals the Beetons ran had such, and apparently the Beetons themselves courted mostly by letter.)

Anyway so, more kinds now with even cheaper and more omnipresent circumglobal communication, but it seems to have been a human propensity suppressed only by circumstance.
posted by clew at 3:37 PM on November 23 [7 favorites]

> The internet friend who you suspect was an internet friend before, both under different names, in a group that fissioned so spectacularly there aren't even traces anymore. You can't ask.
posted by clew at 3:42 PM on November 23 [18 favorites]

My grandfather (born in 1916) was a ham radio fiend. I remember once discussing with him the joy of corresponding with people we'd never met. It's new, but it's not new, also.
posted by eirias at 4:25 PM on November 23 [27 favorites]

I used to talk to you all long before the Internet. You just couldn't hear me back then. Or maybe I didn't actually exist. I can never remember which it was.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:40 PM on November 23 [13 favorites]

The friend who is a friend for months at a time then slips back into being a digital acquaintance and then a memory after they unexpectedly delete their account.

I was originally blog then FB friends with a guy that lived relatively local to me, for about 10 years. We both worked in DC and had plans to meet up a couple of times, but it never happened. One day he announces he needs surgery, and then doesn't update for a year. Didn't know if he was dead, if the whole thing was performance art, or what. Then he suddenly pops up claiming he was locked out of his account for a year and gives us a 2000 word update, surgery went great, wife back in grad school, kids growing like weeds, etc. A couple of days later he deleted his FB account and blog.

I'm still connected with him on LinkedIn - he is a somewhat high ranking civil servant.
posted by COD at 4:54 PM on November 23 [3 favorites]

Knowing someone via social media for over a decade is something humanity has never experienced before this generation.

LOL, kids these days thinking they invented sex all over again. Lemme tell you about flirting over USENET for many years before ending up in the same place at the same time and queue "nice boots, wanna ....". PSHAW.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:58 PM on November 23 [4 favorites]

I have an Internet friend (20+ years!) who has crossed over into being a real-life friend (we live within the same geographic region but it's far enough we can't always get together) and at this point, he's just a "friend." He was also a coworker at a couple of points. He's someone I consider extended family.

But yes, he has children and I've watched them grow up and I have to say nothing makes me feel older than seeing a kid I knew as a baby and then as an 8-year-old now being a punk college graduate.

I was never someone that considered my online friends to be that much different than my "real life" friends, honestly. I'm 41 & I've been online since I was 14/15 so ... uh. Sure, there are degrees of friendship & that's good too. (I also have some 20+ "online" friends I've never managed to meet in person because of reasons.)

I don't think it needs to be said in 2021, but Internet friends are friends.
posted by edencosmic at 6:07 PM on November 23 [11 favorites]

I don't think it needs to be said in 2021, but Internet friends are friends.

I hear what you’re saying, but I think it’s always worth acknowledging friends.
posted by notoriety public at 7:27 PM on November 23 [3 favorites]

Knowing someone via social media for over a decade is something humanity has never experienced before this generation. How fascinating! I wonder how that alone is shaping our societies and relationships.

It's not social media, but there were entire generations of people who used USPS to hold very intimate letter correspondences who only met through some kind of penpal organization or list. I had one in England for a while, but international post is/was slow and expensive, and we weren't good at keeping it up. During my years of going to summer camp I had friends I exchanged letters will all the-rest-of-the-year and then saw them again at camp the next year.

But yeah, people keeping up pretty religious correspondence with people they've never met about their lives? It's been going on.

I had LiveJournal friends I felt very very close to. A lifetime ago, but still.

I love meeting online friends. This happens within the furry community all the time, but I've been to MeFi Meetups (and campouts) that have all been delightful. Internet strangers aren't strangers! They're real people!
posted by hippybear at 8:19 PM on November 23 [8 favorites]

I used to have internet friends like this in my old LiveJournal days but I have no internet friends like this any more. Sad.
posted by splitpeasoup at 8:52 PM on November 23 [6 favorites]

Probably half of my friends, including the one I'd consider my very closest, are "Internet friends." The sole conservative I still tolerate dates back to rec.arts.[redacted]. I don't distinguish between Internet and "real life" friends, really, but I will concede that there are some relationships that are most rewarding conducted at one of the weird combinations of intimacy/remove/performance that certain forms of social media can facilitate.
posted by praemunire at 10:01 PM on November 23 [5 favorites]

I understand that the Dartmouth Time Sharing System way back in the 1960s was fertile ground for, er, connections, or at least attempts at such, as much as a juvenile BASIC program would allow.
posted by credulous at 11:01 PM on November 23

I have Internet friendships that are longer than some in-person friendships.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:11 PM on November 23 [6 favorites]

I have been to the wedding of an internet friend.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 11:22 PM on November 23 [7 favorites]

I've long observed that every technological innovation is seized upon by humans to human at each other even harder. Usually I mean that in a bad way, and to demonstrate the futility of trying to use tech to rein in human misbehaviour. But it's really pretty heartening to remember that we've been befriending each other remotely since before we attached a buzzer to a wire and started tapping, and it'll keep on going long after the current wave of social media sites are defunct.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 2:53 AM on November 24 [4 favorites]

I used to have internet friends like this in my old LiveJournal days but I have no internet friends like this any more. Sad.

I thought I'd lost touch with my Livejournal friends after driting out of online fandom, but I starting using my old accounts again (the ones I made on tumblr and twitter in case everyone left Livejournal) and a lot of the people i used to know have been actively posting there this whole time and were pretty easy to find. And they remembered me! The ones who aren't on social media anymore are in discord groups together and once you find one of them you'll find all of them. Possibly it's not as hard as you think to reconnect, is what I'm trying to say. If you were in a group, even if you drifted away the group might still be connected.
posted by subdee at 3:13 AM on November 24 [5 favorites]

I’m still friends with people I first met on Usenet or Livejournal - many of whom I’ve caught up with in person when we were in each other’s state or country. I ended up working with a few of them, and I have been to five weddings of Internet friends who met their spouses online through Usenet or IRC.

I wish them all well and am glad to know that all these people are out there living their lives, even if I never see them in person again (or have never seen them in person at all).
posted by andraste at 4:19 AM on November 24 [1 favorite]

I've been on IRC 28 years almost every day of my life unless I was traveling or on vacation. I have grown up with a small group of people that I talk to essentially every day, and who probably know me better than anyone else. The group was larger, but evil wives and kids create other necessary uses of time. Some convert to email, which is the modern pen pal. It has been an important part of my life. I've moved around, am a severe introvert, and do not make new friends easily.. but they've always been there.
posted by joelr at 5:06 AM on November 24 [1 favorite]

So, I belong to this website that has a Blue front page that looks almost exactly the way it did when I joined in 2000, where people post stuff and fight and argue, and have nutty in-jokes like jamming cats in scanners and insisting there is no Cabal. Maybe you've heard of it.
posted by briank at 6:00 AM on November 24 [17 favorites]

Went looking for a few specific usernames...didn't think to look at the original poster. I offer the secret handshake.

I'm got a 20 year crew that's still at least kind of together. It helps to have a consistent platform. I've always referred to them as my invisible friends (they're real. You just can't see them)

What's weird is that, as I've moved around the country, people have movrd from Internet friend to meat-space friend and back (and in one case back and forth *again*), which is cool. There are a number of people in the group who have had similar experiences.

Staying online friends with people who were "real life" friends first and then moved away seems a lot harder, somehow.
posted by DebetEsse at 7:31 PM on November 24 [7 favorites]

Yeah, people who are better IRL/aren't very chatty online don't tend to stick around in my life once the in person bit goes away.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:29 PM on November 24 [2 favorites]

I have been to more than one internet friend's wedding and one unspeakably sad and moving funeral. There was a whole contingent of us there, many of us meeting for the first time as we gathered to say goodbye to our mutual friend. She would have loved to have hung out with us all together.
posted by mostlymartha at 1:13 AM on November 25 [4 favorites]

My best friend, of very nearly ten years standing now, is someone I only know online. Many many thousands of messages in both directions; letters, cards, postcards and presents; a weekly video chat is often the highlight of the week. They know far more about me than anyone else does, and the reverse is likely true. A few years ago I rewrote my will; they'll get most of the wordshore reserves, and my relatives nothing, which is deeply satisfying. We have both filled a significant gap in the other ones life, and both gotten the other out of several not great situations and relationships over the years.

I have no idea if we will meet in the atomic world (I'm trying not to use the phrase real world or real life any more, as this person is real, and so is our deep friendship). The pandemic messed up plans for this. But in a way, meeting up doesn't really matter; the thing we have, as it is, is good.
posted by Wordshore at 2:53 AM on November 25 [12 favorites]

I have 20 year internet friends. One of them I drove to the very south end of Antelope Island, around a fence. There are several. It this time, I have almost no IRL friendships. I moved somewhere and I didn't pursue friendships. I have a grandchild I see ♡, and busy, busy family. So, this is important to me.
posted by Oyéah at 9:40 PM on November 25 [2 favorites]

Three weddings and a funeral! So far.
posted by Coaticass at 11:19 PM on November 25

One more wedding and you'll have yourself a romcom.
posted by hippybear at 6:04 AM on November 28

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