A recent article online at Information Week "MySpace Friends May Not Be Real", has got me thinking about the people that I have only met virtually and that I consider to be friends - are they real friends?
For me a friend is someone that I share common interests with, that I correspond with somehow on a fairly regular basis, and who knows more about me than name, rank, and serial number. I also know something about them and a friend is also someone who I want to talk to to ask questions of, to get their opinions on issues and to debate, discuss, and yes even argue with about the issues of the moment.
Using this criteria, I have several friends that I have never met anywhere other than online, mostly in Second Life where they are represented by their avatars. I consider many of these people to be good friends. In fact when I met one of my Second Life friends face to face in the real world this past summer for the very first time it was as if we had known each other for years (and in fact we have, just virtually).
I currently have almost 150 "friends" in Facebook. Are they all really friends - many are not, but many are and again, there are some who I have not net in the real world, although they are in the small minority. I find that for me Facebook has been a way to connect with colleagues and learners, and to stay in touch with old friends from the past. So on that point I do agree with the Information Week article - there is an element in social networking (for me at least) that requires some sort of face to face or real world connection in order to develop any sort of lasting bond.
This is not true though in my experience with virtual worlds such as Second Life. Whether it is because of the visual component, the chatting, and now voice, I feel no differently about my SL friends than I do about my real world friends. If they meet my criteria, they are a friend. I think that this is significant for me as an educator as more and more I will be dealing with learners and fellow facilitators that I will never meet face to face, yet I will need to develop relationships with. I think that it will mean that the definition of what a friend is and how we develop friendships will have to change. After all, these days just about everyone knows a couple that met on the Internet - are their relationships any less real or meaningful? We will need to redefine relationships and societal norms and here is an example of some of the issues and problems that could arise from the Wall Street Journal - "Is This Man Cheating On His Wife? It's a valid question - as the tools and means that we use to socialize evolve, so too must our conceptions and definitions of friends and relationships, and how we interact with each other, both in virtual and real settings
So, are my virtual friends real? They are to me...