Friday, March 7, 2008

Internet friendship

I love the internet. I can find information about anything I want in any language. Okay, I may spend hours reading through a bunch of stuff that I'm not looking for in order to find what I'm looking for, but the information is out there somewhere in that digital world, and I don't have to leave home to get it. I can buy books, clothes, or airplane tickets, rent movies, get film developed (digital, at least), read movie reviews on films that haven't even been released yet in Germany. Apparently I can also download pirated movies, watch child porn, or order assault rifles from some country out east, but I haven't taken advantage of these possibilities.
Also I no longer have to buy pen and paper to write to my friends, I can e-mail them: it's quicker, easier and cheaper. Or I can talk to them live on Skype or Yahoo Messenger or Windows Live Messenger. I can keep in touch with friends using sites like Facebook or Linked-In or MySpace. With Facebook it's literally as easy as a touch of a button to connect with someone, or with all of my friends at once.
Wow. The internet is AMAZING.
But is it really? How reliable is this communication? Can we really call it communication?
When I first started using the internet to communicate with friends (through e-mail), I realized that it was necessary for me to know the person I was writing to, and more importantly, who was writing to me. It's just too impersonal. Digital correspondence is just that: digital, 0 and 1, black and white, there's no grey or personality or emotion. As the receiver, you add the appropriate emotion, because you have an idea what the writer is feeling, because you know them. If you don't know the sender, you're probably reading your own personality into what your read.
Which is probably why meeting people over the internet is so successful: you're meeting yourself. But then when you're face to face with the live, non-digital pen pal, you discover that they're someone completely different.
But that's not my point here.
My question is: what happens when you've been out of [live] contact with a friend for so long that you can't be sure of the emotions they're sending along with their 1s and 0s? When every other sentence seems cryptic and maybe even insulting? When you become so unsure of your relationship that you start to feel there no longer is one?
I suppose the answer to these questions is to ask. It is, after all, a friend you're talking about. You do know them. Or did. You've both just gone through changes in each other's absence, so you have to catch up and find a place in the friendship for the new stuff. I believe that an established friendship can cope with even extreme experiences, assuming both parties are willing to do the work of integrating th new with the old.
At least I hope so.

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