Are Online Friends “Real Friends”?

Are online friends “real friends”?

I was a little amused that Plaxo (an online calendar/address book/organiser service) sent me an email to let me know that somebody I knew had joined their service. I clicked on the link and was presented with the following options.

Plaxo Pulse on "Real Friends"

You can choose between Business Network, Family or Friend. Though the suggested text beside ‘Friend’ is more than a tad condescending, especially for what is essentially a service for connecting and sharing information online.

Your real life friends. (Not your “social networking friends”)

But wait, there’s still more…!

Further down on the same screen:

Pulse is for real relationships. Please do not spam people you don’t know with unwelcome connection requests.

How do you know if a request is ‘unwelcome’ before you send it? Isn’t that the point of the exercise, to give the other person the opportunity to accept or deny the request at their discretion?

I hear the expression ‘IRL friends’ all the time. I understand the desire to differentiate between those relationships in daily life and those that exist online. I understand that there are different dimensions and dynamics to both. What I struggle with though is the implication that friendships formed online are in some way inferior, trivial or ‘unreal.’ If anything, I tend to think these relationships can be much more meaningful to the extent that they’re based on shared passions, interests and beliefs, rather than just the stuff of circumstance – a shared city, workplace, demographic.

Psychology aside, I do worry about the longevity of a web based service that would begrudge such relationships. As it is my friend, the new user of that service, didn’t fit neatly into any of the categories provided and I sort of gave up and closed the window. I don’t really use Plaxo anyway…

3 comments… add one
  • “If anything, I tend to think these relationships can be much more meaningful to the extent that they’re based on shared passions, interests and beliefs, rather than just the stuff of circumstance – a shared city, workplace, demographic.”

    Totally agree, but in my experience there is another level to your social network friends/online friends, whatever you want to call them.

    I find that with my online friends the absence of “social barriers” or prejudices as such makes me feel comfortable talking to just about anyone. For example I have no problem replying to Rove on Twitter, but faced with real life, I am the first to say that I would probably be a little bit intimidated, even though he is short. 😉 What’s more, there is a woman who I regularly talk to on Twitter who, as I get to know her, appears to be a bit of a hippy. Not that I care, but in a real life situation, we may not be each other’s “type”.

    So maybe, could it be true to say, that our online friends are our “real” friends? Or to go to the extreme, are our “true” friends?

  • Friends are friends, no matter how you connect with them. I had the fortune to travel to the US and meet all of the women I had been chatting to on various health forums for YEARS. And it was just like being with friends that I had chatted to in person for years.

  • I cherish my online friends and RL friends…and it is so fun when the two cross barriers. I’ve met more people online. It’s opened my world.

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