“I don’t use social networking sites,” I say, haughtily. My friend shakes her head vehemently. “Why are you so snobby about them anyway?” she asks. I try to explain that it’s not snobbery; it’s more like a neurosis. My friend has accounts on hi5 and myspace and regularly converses with people through MSN. Now there’s nothing wrong with this but she cannot understand why I cannot and do not regard people I ‘met’ over the internet as ‘friends’.
I tell her that it’s about trust or lack thereof. I say internet contact is missing that trust you build with a person when you meet them face to face. She challenges me by asking, “What if you have spoken to them over a webcam? That’s face to face contact. Would that be good enough for you?” I shake my head, unconvinced. I’m not quite sure how to articulate my reservations about this.
I know it’s the 21st century. People meet over the internet every day and establish lasting friendships and relationships but I can’t help but feel that making friends the traditional way is better and, well, real. Some argue that internet friendships are real; you exist and they exist and just because the space you meet in doesn’t really exist, it doesn’t nullify the relationship but it is this space that my neurosis stems from. After all, I didn’t have a problem with Meg Ryan falling in love with Tom Hanks without meeting him face-to-face in Sleepless in Seattle and yet, when the same thing happened in You’ve Got Mail, I rolled my eyes and stuck two fingers down my throat (metaphorically speaking of course). I do wonder how I came to this opinion. After all, I have grown up around computers and studied the field in-depth. I, of all people, should be comfortable with virtual activity but it leaves me feeling cold.
I asked a question to my friend who has always maintained that an internet friend can be just as real and good as a “real” friend. I asked her if she would trust an internet friend to look after her children at which point she stalled and instantly realised my point. See, if I had children, a friend would be someone that I would trust to look after them and I could never leave my children with someone I never met face-to-face no matter how many times I spoke to them online or over a webcam or in a chatroom because that personal touch is missing.
I guess it all boils down to what you call a friend. To some, a friend is someone they met a few days ago. To me, a friend is someone I truly trust. Everyone else is just secondary.