Virtually Friends?

A few days ago, I found out a Facebook friend of a friend had passed away. He was in his very early sixties and I only knew him from a couple of exchanges we’d had whilst commenting on a mutual friend’s post. I remember we once discussed blogging as both he and I had attempted to write a travel blog. But I will remember him most for his witty comments on many of my friend’s statuses. And now he’s gone. When I heard this sad news, I felt very out of sorts, I just couldn’t settle that day; like a cat on hot bricks. Somebody I knew just a tiny bit…albeit barely at all – was not around anymore. Those amusing comments would no longer be forthcoming and I felt a sense of…loss. But part of me couldn’t help feeling I was muscling in on his real family and friend’s grief. I reiterate, I did not know this chap; I’d never met him, we weren’t actually Facebook friends per se and I didn’t even know what he looked like (his profile pictures were primarily of him in the seventies). But I wasn’t alone, other Facebook users who also only knew him via a mutual Facebook friend seemed to be feeling this loss equally. Why did I feel that way? Why did any of us strangers feel that way? And one of these strangers summed it up for me very nicely; the world is changing. Friends no longer need to be people you’ve met face-to-face or have physically seen and conversed with. The virtual world has created a whole new subset of friends we will probably never actually meet in real life but in some way have managed to become very important to us.

Another social media platform I use is Google +. G+ hasn’t really taken off in Britain – in fact a year ago, I’d never even heard of it. I only discovered it when I was researching other ways to promote my book and blog (and because Google + is owned by Google [obviously], anything you advertise there rates higher on the Google search engine, supposedly). So in the early days, I had no idea what I was supposed to do; I didn’t have any friends on G+ as, like I say, it isn’t widely used in my immediate circles. I did the sensible thing and joined lots of blogging and writer’s circles, posted my blogs and commented on other’s posts. In a very short time, I had become a part of a blogging community; chatting to bloggers from all over the world on a daily basis. There was a blog community member who was a fellow Brit (and there are precious few of us on G+ really) named Woody. He wrote an entertaining, observational blog which focused on his daily life. He was also very fond of putting together lists; 10 Ways to Make a Lasting Marriage, Top Ten Movies – that kind of thing. But one day, Woody just disappeared. Both his blog and G+ account were closed – just like that. Myself and other members of our little blogging fraternity were naturally very perturbed by this. We could not find him on Facebook or Twitter or we would have made contact through those channels just to see what was wrong. But he was nowhere to be found. And again, I fretted about this for days and days. What had happened to Woody? A family crisis? A very unpleasant piece of feedback that completely put him off writing (he was always very vocal about his lack of confidence in his work which was a shame as he was very good)? Had he just decided blogging was too much like hard work (well, I can definitely identify with that!)? We never found out. To this day, he hasn’t returned. I’m only a blogger of eight months standing, so I haven’t completely learned the ropes. Maybe this sort of thing happens all the time. Maybe bloggers come and go; they’re all over your timeline like flies on a dog-turd one day (in a good way) and then the next they disappear like a puff of smoke. Never to be seen or heard of again.

One of my other blogging friends has named this practice as, ‘committing bloggacide’ (I wish I’d invented that – but I didn’t. I did invent #sharesies though. I think…). He’s a blogger with ten years experience so must have seen this kind of thing a fair bit before. But how depressing is that? To have established a small band of friends, a community, a gang – and then one or more of those members just withdraws without a trace. I’m starting to see it happen more frequently too – I hope those people are just taking a break and will be back in the fold soon. But who knows, maybe the next bloggacide will be mine. Maybe that little thumbnail picture you see at the top of my posts just won’t be on your timeline one day (oh, and by the way – those of you who don’t know me in real life, that slightly off-focus thumbnail photo is me on one of my better days. Usually I look as though I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards [but I sensibly don’t use those photos]. And as an aside, whoever coined the phrase ‘dragged through a hedge backwards’ was a genius. I mean, try to really visualise it – to be dragged through a hedge forwards would make you unkempt enough, but backwards? Oh yes, that hedge did a number on me. But then, that’s the beauty of the Internet, isn’t it?).

So are our virtual friends really our friends? Admittedly, many of my internet friends don’t even know my real name – but that’s part and parcel of being a writer. In the past, having on-line friends may have appeared a rather sad, nerdy, pathetic endeavour (pathetic? Moi?) – but not anymore with technology taking over our lives the way it has. We all have virtual friends now. But if you had the opportunity to meet one of your on-line chums, would you? Should that be the ‘acid test’ of friendship? But who says we even need an acid test (hang on, that might have been me…)? Maybe these people are your friends by the sheer virtue of the fact that you converse with them every other day (possibly more than your flesh-and-blood pals in some cases). And maybe you will never set eyes on your virtual friends in the entirety of your life but does that lessen their value? I don’t think so. Some of my best Facebook friends are people I haven’t seen in 20-30 years and possibly never will see again, but they can be some of the most prolific ‘commenters’ and our on-line friendship has become more meaningful than our previous real-life friendship ever was. And without the internet, those friendships would be lost to me.

Anyway, I suppose what I’ve concluded is, every interaction is important – be it real or virtual. Some of your virtual friends understand your current journey better than anyone (like bloggers and writers fully appreciate me taking a stab at being an author perhaps – because they’re in the same boat). Sometimes you can only get the very essence of a person by the things they put down on paper; the blogs they write or the statuses that they post, the innermost workings of people’s minds – things they would never say out loud. Yet some of your real-life friends may remain the only people you can turn to and really confide in – they know you warts and all (not just your on-line persona). But every friendship has its place. Every friendship has a function. The world is changing. And so has friendship. Maybe, if I knew you in my past, I will never actually see you again (and like I say, with my hedge-hair, you’re probably better off). Almost certainly, if you know me only virtually, I will never actually get to meet you in person (don’t forget the hedge-hair, I’m doing you a favour here). And maybe one day you and I will no longer interact or converse anymore at all. But it was a blast while it lasted.

ps: Nasher – you will be missed. Rest in peace.

pps: Come back Woody!

28 thoughts on “Virtually Friends?

  1. So I’m sitting having my breakfast (brown bread I baked myself, rhubarb & ginger jam in in case you’re interested) and my phone beeps alerting me to your freshly penned blog! Hurray ! Within the space of 2minutes I’ve gone from feeling sad at the loss you mention to killing myself laughing! (if I was cool I’d put pmsl) , but I’m not cool so we’ll noodle on…
    Great take on the virtual & real friend senario we all find ourselves in Adele and in case you,re wondering it was the image of being dragged through a hedge backwards that had me in fits of laughter.
    Who needs mood enhancers? We should just use our imaginations more!
    Have a superdooper weekend 😜 x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A fascinating insight Adele. I know that my blogging hobby is immeasurably improved by the people like you that I’ve come to know.

    My wife is a enthusiastic World of Warcraft player and has gathered a group of friends from across Europe because of it. We’ve now had a couple of in person meetups and they’ve been wonderful fun, and they wouldn’t have occurred without the virtual friendships.

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  3. You haven’t actually been around long enough to be truly jaded yet. I have lost people here and there, some meant quite a bit to me, but the majority of the people that have up and vanished never really existed. Fake profiles created by people who jumped online to be something that they can’t be in real life. Men pretending to be women, adults pretending to be teenagers.
    The first person I lost was a man named Mike from Wasilla Alaska. We hung out together in the IRC rooms back in 1998. I heard he killed himself, but nobody really knows. He could have never really existed. The last one was a great friend from Facebook named Patty. She finally lost her battle with brain injuries. She did exist but by that time I was so jaded the line was blurred a bit.

    P.S. I miss Rachel more than Woody, but I could of course see what she is up to over on Facebook, but for some strange reason nothing has ever seemed real over there ….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a great post. I have only recently started blogging, with the intent of building a subscriber base to build a few businesses. I figured, I’m already active on social media and I essentially blog on these forums anyway by sharing my ideas and concepts with my virtual friends. The idea was to take my thoughts, that I would normally just make a post out of, and actually develop the thoughts a bit more and blog about them. Then share the blog in social media. Anyway, I find myself writing a bunch of unfinished blogs, then not posting. But I have become involved in several communities and groups and I’ve made several hundred of these virtual friends. We celebrate birthdays together, marriages, and even morn the loss of close ones. I can totally relate to this post, and I’ve found it incredibly comforting when people I’ve never actually met in real life reach out to comfort me in times of disparity. Who says you can’t actually “connect” with people using these networking tools? In fact, one community I’ve been very active in is a particular law community. I’ve made plenty of friends here and people often reach out for support with their own processes. I suggested some educational material to a virtual friend a few years back, only to meet him in person at a workshop here in New Mexico. Now this guy is among my closest REAL friends.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well I certainly consider some of my Internet friends to be among my closest…and many I consider to be my mentors, teachers and spiritual guides. I can’t tell you how much I habe grown as a person due to the kind contributions of these virtual friends.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. A great many of my internet friends have become real life friends, many of them come to stay at our house several times a year. I also met my partner on the internet and we’ve been together for 13 years. A few people have disappeared from my online contacts list over the years, and I often wonder where they went and if they are OK. I think they would be surprised how often I think of them.
    I only discovered G+ and the WordPress community recently, but it does seem to be a place for online friendships to grow 🙂

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  6. A very pertinent piece, Adele. We all ponder the essence of friendship especially now in the age of virtual friends. Do they have the same validity as organic friends? Do we really know who they are? Do they really care? Do WE really care? These questions are as valid for organic friends as virtual, whether the medium be Facebook, G+ , the school gates or the pub. Of course, in the latter you can be sure that a woman is a woman (maybe?!) or a Teen is a teen.
    Now I’m going to throw the cat among the pigeons. The feelings that we have when something befalls these friends is akin to the feelings that we have when we see someone kicked in the balls or a child in peril. We immediately wince in empathy. They could be our balls or our child. The elderly will become morose when they hear of a neighbour or friend’s friend who has died. It reminds them of their own mortality. When virtual friends drop off the radar we are reminded of our own ephemeral condition.
    That said, I feel that friends are friends. We have intellectual and emotional connections. We support each other (thank you dearly, Adele) we do genuinely care, the lack of physical contact is almost irrelevant. You may not be able to water my plants or baby-sit my kids (neither can many of my organic friends) but we have connections and that is valid.
    Enjoy ALL your friends for what you can give and what they offer.


    BTW I’m sure your hedge-backwards reality is as beautiful as your profile. If you’ve ever read Roald Dahl’s The Twits you’ll know that ugly comes from ugly thoughts not physiology. My profile comes from being arrested, I’m gorgeous in real life ;P

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’re right, David. It isn’t always about what your friends can DO for you (real or virtual) but what they offer you in companionship, understanding, encouragement or just making you laugh (super important for me). I guess it’s easier to get over the loss of virtual friends due to the fact they were never physically in your life. But they are still missed.
      Ps: that’s pretty good going for a ‘being arrested’ photo. I’m sure I’d have to photoshop mine to within an inch of its life…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve been blogging for a while (5 years) and I often link back to earlier posts in new ones, and I look at those old posts and read the comments and wonder, “What happened to so-and-so, who used to comment here all the time?” I dunno–I’m not distressed by it, the way people come and go in our on-line lives. People come, people go, other people take their place, the deck chairs on the Titanic get moved about, I guess 😉

    I’ve thought about ending my blog a number of times, more seriously recently. I think it takes away from my creative energy that would be better spent elsewhere, and I’m not sure what purpose it serves, if it’s supporting my goals or not.

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  8. I have a friend who has Aspergers, the only way in which she is comfortable to communicate with the outside world is online. Her interactions with others are always genuine, albeit she has met her fair share of trolls along the way. Still, the important thing to take out of my experience here is that just like in society, the online community is a mixed bag. Some will have their own agendas, some will be real ratbags, some will be truly nice people who reach out and just … well… be themselves. We can only try to be internet savvy and take precautions to protect ourselves (without the added bonus of a ‘physical’ relationship and all it’s non verbal cues that we miraculously learn how to read) build our experience of others on an individual basis and take as we find. The truth is, that even somebody virtual who you never met and is limited to online can do you a fair amount of damage (if only to your rep, never mind scamming you etc)… and so I guess the clues are always there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed, as with all things – there are good and bad people everywhere. I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t had a huge amount of trolls (I guess that gets worse the more popular you are). Anyway, my experience so far has been positive. 🙂

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  9. Great post Adele, and apologies for my tardiness. I confess to missing this one as I seem to have been so busy lately and when I try to catch up with posts in my stream….I am sure you have the same problem sometimes. We are not all as efficient as Jeremy. Anyway, talking of JC, Facebook does have its uses, because I found your post in my stream there. There are so many comments with which I totally agree, so cannot really add further about the importance of ‘friends’ on all social media platforms. Like you, a year ago I had not even heard of G+, but joined for extra exposure of my books. However, it is amazing at how quickly and easily one starts to feel the connection with those whom you regularly communicate. I had noticed David O’Regan missing for a month and questioned him on his return (nosey or what?) and like many of us am wondering about Rachel. I puzzled over her missing tabs and even tried to find out (without success) how to remove the ‘post’ one as well as the others. I am hoping she is just on a long summer holiday with her family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Richard, you’re never too late! Yes I miss Rachel. I’ve sent her a message on FB saying we all hoped she’d be back soon which she said she appreciated on her reply. I too hope she returns. And yes, I noticed David was missing for a while too. It’s funny how we have become so concerned, isn’t it?


  10. Hello. I love the new look – very clean and super professional. BUT … the dates on comments are all showing up as 2015. Weird. Wondered if it were some clever play on the theme of people disappearing as friends and that all these comments are from a year ago – very Twilight Zone. or perhaps its me and my settings!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I had not previously seen this blog, because I wasn’t then acquainted with you. But Adele, what you wrote very much resonated with me. Indeed, I am sometimes stunned to realize that of my Facebook friends (and certainly my Google+ friends) at least half and perhaps more of them are people I’ve never met. I’m very close to some of them and have carried forward beyond FB to occasional phone calls. Like you, I do cherish people I knew in real-life situations and rediscovered through Facebook. Yet as our life circumstances change and in some cases seem to shrink because we don’t work in conventional office settings, our online community seems to grow to the point that yes, if one goes missing it’s very troublesome.

    Oh. I don’t have hedge hair, but I might as well because most days it looks like a hair ball one of the cats threw up.

    Keep up these great blog posts and most definitely that wondrous wit you have.

    Liked by 1 person

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