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Making and keeping e friends

Most people now can't live without the Internet. It's full of people literally making the world smaller and smaller much like a jam-packed elevator. However, in an elevator, people are dead-set on avoiding eye contact with each other; their bodies are tense as they wait for the doors to open so they make a beeline to wherever they're going. Online, everybody's also about to spring off to another direction, maybe to do some research, shopping, surfing or correspondence. But unlike in a crowded elevator, people are more social, they seek other people, they pop or buzz, leave a message or just say ‘Hi' with a dozen emoticons to a roomful of strangers.

What's the proof, you ask? Just look at games – pretty simple eh? But people search out those who are online so they can talk to them, boast or share strategies with. How about bloggers? They're last year's headline; Time even put a mirror on their Person of the Year issue to reflect the reader's image – signifying the blogger who takes time to write about his or her day or his or her opinion on Britney Spears shaved head or the latest crazy accident on Sheik Zayed.

I guess it's because the Internet is primary use, no matter how it evolves, is still for communication: online forums, discussions, comment boxes, news, then there are the sites which are geared primarily for networking, meeting and keeping friends like Hi5, Friendster, MySpace, Multiply, FriendWise, Tribe, Zoom – a lot of which are banned by Etisalat because of inappropriate content or because it's being used as a means to meet, well, “friends.”

And of course, there are the chat rooms – literally a place to meet and greet. But the question is: can you consider friends made online, valid? Is it real? Can you call it friendship? Can you call it love? Is there commitment? We sought out people who have very active e-lives and by that we mean, people who maintains blogs or journals, has websites, are members of online communities – simply put, people who will experience withdrawal symptoms when deprived of Net connection for a period of time (say an hour).

Julls is a real techie – she loves her laptop, uses RSS (Real Simple Syndication) before it became commonly used, knows which sites can give you free photo hosting, can explain to you what bandwidth-stealing is, and is a regular “online stalker”. Oh, we mean the latter part in a good way; for us, it just means people who follow other people's blogs or journals just for the pure reading pleasure of it. This gal is always online through instant messaging (IM) using services like Yahoo Messenger (YM) or Gtalk (Gmail Talk). Her online journal is a paid account at (Lj) that takes hours to customise!

She first discovered the joys of Lj in 2002 and in those pages she pours her thoughts, worries and delights. Practically all parts of her life – even the contents of her hand bag – can be found there. Like those automated web crawlers, she scours the site for people with like-minded interests: stuff like fantasy literature, coffee, turtles, the Wallflowers, and gadgets. “I find Lj friends through communities in Livejournal. When I find someone interesting I comment in their blog and then I add them to my friends' list if I want to read their blogs regularly. People find me in that way too,” Julls shares. They get to know their nick (pseudonyms) and avatars (pictures or illustrations that identify the person) and a history develops from there.

 Julls keeps in touch with them through IMs. “One Lj friend of mine who lives in the US chats with me regularly. She tells me about her problems, I give her advice when I can, and vice versa. I also update her on my life, and sometimes rant to her about things that bother me. That's what friends do in ‘real life', and it happens in online life as well.”

Sometimes, her cyber friends call up, “Another Lj friend lives in Malaysia, and he calls me from time to time just to say hello. Once when I was on a business trip in Kuala Lumpur, I had trouble finding my way around the city, so whenever I got lost I called him up or sent him text messages, and he gave me directions to everywhere I needed to go – he lives in Malacca so he couldn't meet up with me. It was such a big help, and I was really glad I had him as an Lj friend.”

But she clarifies that “The level of friendship is different compared to her ‘real life' friends.” So far, she has only met one cyber friend in person. Even if she has been making and maintaining friends online, she still thinks of safety first. “She's the friend of my officemate who blog-hopped from my officemate's journal to mine. She was based in Thailand last year, so when I went there on business, I called her and she showed me around Bangkok,” she says.

Julls feel safe enough to divulge her true address and identity to some e friends – some have event sent her stuff which they both like. It's what keeps them e friends – the common interest. On a last note, she says, “They're not real in a sense because I don't see them in person. Still, it's fun having cyber friends because sometimes it's refreshing to hear the advice or opinion of a total stranger, someone impartial to what you're going through. It's also fun finding out how people from other countries live their lives.”

Marian is another gal who is always online but she's not as techie as Julls. Her online activities are limited to emailing, chatting and general surfing. She checks out the enews in the morning and will be constantly checking her email throughout the day. At night, when she gets home, she opens her computer and logs in to her favourite chatrooms. She believes that it's online where she can meet a true, long-time friend.

And she did – she met Brian. Their chatroom conversations turned to long emails and after two years, those emails led to an actual meeting. But it was no Cinderella story where a fairy godmother or maybe a cyber fairy can come and make everything work; they had to fight a lot of negative perceptions, cultural differences and the usual boy-girl arguments.

“It was really hard at first... even up to now, we still have our differences and we can both feel it,” Marian shares. “When we get into arguments, I just keep in mind that I fell for a loving man. From our first conversation, I knew that he was the one for me. We had the same objectives in life.”

Unlike other people who jump the gun, Marian and Brian had a long engagement. They planned each step they will take carefully, especially the humongous relationship clincher of meeting each other's families. After they have passed those hurdles, it was only then that they decided to tie the knot. “I have to admit that I am very lucky. Not everybody finds their knight in shining armor online. I know that a lot of people experience heartaches... I have friends who were not as lucky as I am. There are a lot of psychos online! You really have to be careful.”

It's a netful of possibilities
Most of the staff here belongs to the breed of people who can't live without the Internet. Like Marian, we have a chronic email-checking disease but unlike her we haven't found real e-friendship yet but it has given us the perfect tool to maintain the “real friends” we have made through the years, especially those who moved to the other corners of Earth. We email, chat, email, sms, email, comment on each other's blogs, email... you get the drift. We don't discount the possibly that you can make real friends online, maybe even find love so we'll just keep our fingers crossed, our eyes open and our emails downloading.

Courtesy: Arabian Woman
Posted: 26/06/2008

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