Pamah’s husband died in January, Jinlong wrote a book, Wilken’s mom has been fighting breast cancer and Rayzur and Berdina just celebrated the birth of their most recent grand-baby. I don’t “know” any of these people in real-life, in fact I only know one of them by their real name, but they are friends all the same and I have known all of them for at least three years. We all play World of Warcraft, spending an evening a week working on the latest “puzzle and problem” of the “dungeons” in a “world” of shared imagination and experience while talking on the VoIP system and generally having a great time.
There is an odd nature to online friendships. In games, on message boards, in the blog-sphere, you get to meet and know people and you find things in common and you enjoy them. But they are not as close as real-life friendships, there is still a wall of separation – anonymity, but they aren’t as messy or as much work as real life friendships either. Years ago I saw a movie called 84 Charing Cross Road (a really terrible name for a movie) about two book lovers, one in Great Britain the other in the US who start corresponding over books and become “pen-pals” and good friends yet they never meet. I remember when I saw the movie that I wondered at forming a friendship through letters; so much of what makes people friends is shared experience, but it worked. With the advent of the internet it is rather common place now.
There will always be those limiting factors to online friendships, and yes, it is somewhat easier to be “fooled” in online relationships of any type. Which is why I guess I am leery of online romances. Actually, I actively roll my eyes at them because my experience with them (both personally and observationally) is at best humorous. There is always that way back somewhere in the back of the head thought that I am only seeing what others choose to show me. I have seen so many total fakes online. Especially on parenting sites sadly enough. I have seen babies who were in critical condition that ended up not existing at all, community members who were in medical residency who ended up being college freshman – and more. I have heard of many more than I have seen, one vivid one was the whole April Rose thing from last year which suckered so many in the Christian mommy-blog world but yet was most astounding part of that to me was that it made national news — these reporters really are clueless, these things happen online all the time.
Online relationships suffer from but at the same time are blessed by the fact that so much is “fill in the blank”. Since we can’t experience the person in real life we are forced to fill in those missing parts with imagination. The facial expressions, the tone of voice, the look in the eye are all supplied by the receiver of the message. It is the flip side of the main reason why online disagreements turn ugly so quickly – you don’t see the person on the other side of the screen, their “reactions” are supplied (or not) by your imagination. If you are inclined to them being friendly towards you (or in love with you) you imagine what you wish reality to be. So Pamah looks at me as a heartfelt friend, Jinlong smiles at my jokes and is glad to see me, to Wilken I am the aunt you can tell your troubles to and Ray and Berdy are good neighbors who always have a smile and a wave. Which all sounds crazy in a way. Since so much of the friendship is in my head if one or another drops offline I am not grieved, I think about them, wonder how they are from time to time, but I certainly don’t feel the same loss I would for someone I actually saw every week if they were to move away or end our friendship.
Despite their short comings online friendships are a general positive in my world. I have met some of them and been very happy with the experiences in general. When I heard of Pamah’s husband and Wilken’s mom I prayed for them, although it seems odd to pray for someone who’s name you don’t even know there is a thread of connection. Too much I am sure for my poor brain to figure out, but my heart doesn’t have a problem with it at all.