When I was growing up we hung out at drive-ins, bowling alleys, hockey rinks, community centres, sports fields, and other real spaces. The people we met and the friends we made were local and we met face to face. I moved around a lot as an army brat and over the years lost track of old friends, making new friends at our new posting. Some you kept in touch with by letters, but I was (and am) a lousy letter writer. Our friends were "real" we knew their names and we knew what they looked like.
Welcome to 2009 and Web 2.0, virtual worlds, micro-blogging sites like Twitter, and social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Orkut (among literally hundreds), not to mention online dating sites like e-Harmony. The whole meeting, making, and keeping friends paradigm has changed. You can now meet people from all over the world, get to know them and create lasting friendships and relationships without ever meeting. Staying "in touch" is easy and is now pushed to your friends by simply updating your status. You can develop a deep or lasting relationship that once it becomes face to face (or "real" as some would say) continues to be stroong.
The question is can you be friends with someone you have never met? My answer to that question is yes. I know several people that I consider friends who I have never met face to face, yet our relationships are normal and friendly. I've met most of these people through Second Life, and some through Facebook. Some I have met face to face in the "real world", some I will probably never meet yet I still consider them friends and no less a friend simply because we have never met face to face. What sites like Facebook and Second Life have done is simply expanded my "First Life" - my social circles and networks are now global, not loacal...
Anna Pickard in the Guardian posted an article called "Virtual people, real friends" (thanks to Randommind for finding this). It's a great read and makes the point that you can have real friends with virtual people. In the article Anna says:
Call me naive, but far from being the bottomless repository of oddballs and potential serial killers, the internet is full of lively minded, like-minded engaging people – for the first time in history we're lucky enough to choose friends not by location or luck, but pinpoint perfect friends by rounding up people with amazingly similar interests, matching politics, senses of humour, passionate feelings about the most infinitesimally tiny hobby communities. The friends I have now might be spread wide, geographically, but I'm closer to them than anyone I went to school with, by about a million miles.
For me, and people like me who might be a little shy or socially awkward – and there are plenty of us about – moving conversations and friendships from the net to a coffee shop table or the bar stool is a much more organic, normal process than people who spend less time online might expect.
Depending on the root of the friendship, on where the conversation started, the benefit is clear – you cut out the tedium of small talk. What could be better?"
This new reality has implications for educators too - our learners are hanging out in these new online spaces, making friends, collaborating, defining relationships and creating networks. We need to understand how this works, understand that friends made in this new paradigm are just as real and just as important as any "real-world" friends and that these virtual friends will impact on learning environments and how we will relate to our learners.
As we move to more and more blended or online deliveries, many of our learners will only be known to us through their online presence. Does that make them any less a learner or are the friendships and relationships they develop with their classmates and us any less relevant or important? Hmmm...
(Photo - "Blast From The Past" by Steve_Tango)