Friendships in a cyber age

Joshua Goldberg’s sudden death, at age 43, has really saddened me. I feel as if I’ve lost a friend — not a best friend, because we weren’t that close, but a friend nevertheless. What’s funny, though, is that I never actually met Joshua. I never talked to him on the phone. I never even saw him across the room. Instead, our friendship played out entirely over the internet. We emailed each other. When I needed help, he gave it. When he had something interesting to say, he offered it. I valued our communications, and felt a bond with him. I called that bond friendship.

I feel that same bond with many of my regular readers. I wouldn’t be able to pick your faces out in a crowd, and if you called me, I wouldn’t recognize your voice. Yet we certainly converse on a daily basis. We share thoughts, ideas and, as appropriate, personal stories. Even if the voice coming from your physical being is unknown to me, I recognize the voice of your mind. With many of you, I know you so well that, even if I didn’t see your name on a comment, I’d still know it was you talking. I feel that constitutes a friendship too.

I have email friendships that I’ve made through blogging that have the same “feel.” We write each other on a regular basis. Indeed, as with the people who comment here, I “speak” with my email friends more than I do with many of the people I see in the flesh. We share our sorrows and our joys. We laugh at jokes, share news, and try to understand our world a bit better. With these people, I feel that, if I was to meet with them face-to-face, we’d pick up our conversation in the middle, as if we’d had lunch or coffee together the day before.

Although I’m describing friendships from the computer age, these relationships have a peculiarly old-fashioned feel to them. Long ago, before telephones and cars and airplanes, friendships could be geographically distant, but still very meaningful. Ordinary people normally corresponded only with people they knew in the flesh, but the realities of travel in a pre-modern era might mean that a short acquaintance would result in a decades’ long correspondence, lasting until one person could write no more. With famous people, meeting in the first place wasn’t necessary. As with the bloggers of today, it was enough that a kindred soul stumbled across a person’s writing and wrote a letter. Some fan letters went nowhere; some sparked lasting friendships that played out over paper, without the correspondents ever meeting.

I know that some people decry the distance that computers create. There’s no doubt that there is something inherently antisocial about socializing when there is no one else in the room. But if a friendship is a meeting of minds, one could argue too that the cyber friendships we’ve created here are the purest friendships of them all.

Cross-posted at Bookworm Room

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