Of Online & Offline friends


  Like many of us, I too grew up on a steady diet of  FRIENDS - yes, the very famous sitcom.


In fact, because we didn’t get any other channels apart from the regional/ national ones, I used to get one of my classmates to record it on VHS tapes and bring them to school. That’s how addicted I was to the show. I remember how I craved for life to be like the show. Most of all, I wanted to be part of that group, have that feeling of belonging and be with a bunch of people who would (to quote the theme song) ‘be there for me’.


Adulthood was pretty successful in knocking some sense into my thick head. I soon realised that the notion of ‘such’ friendship was terribly flawed. No matter what others say, very often such friendships do not exist . And I’ll tell you why. For every relationship to work, it requires a certain level of give and take, and most of all space. Put six people together, day-in-day-out and you’ll see the relationship start to fall apart at the seams. Even 'reality shows' like Big Boss/ Big Brother thrive on that very concept. In fact, the reason why we have some friendships that work is primarily because we are not in each other’s face every single moment. So in effect, we’re there for each other - but not with each other 24x7.


Now, before I go dragging technology's good intent through the mud, let me tell you this. It has done some wonderful things for us. Who’d have thought 20 years ago, that one day we’d be waking up chatting to a bunch of strangers, some millions of miles away from home? Definitely not me. As I wrote in a previous post, it has really helped introverts like me don the garb of an extrovert and break the proverbial ice with people; some of whom have gone on to be my best friends. But as the ‘face’ of online relationships start to change, I’m starting to realise a lot more things.


Those of you who know me personally will probably be aware of the fact that I’ve been ‘burnt’ a fair few times by some of my online friends. Even friends that I’ve once considered close, have had agendas at times. And truth be told, they probably had their reasons; ones that I’d probably have listened to if they’d  thought of discussing with me. So yes, online relationships do deserve some of the flack that they get. But that’s the trouble with online friendships. When things start to go south, we just  drop the ball as if it has suddenly changed form into a bomb that’s about to go off. A few passive- aggressive statuses and unfriend-ing/ un-following steps later, we end up going our separate ways.


With the advent of the Internet, the concept of friendship has taken on new dimensions. We started making friends with people we had never met before. Often, the only thing we had in common were a bunch of mutual friends. Sometimes, not even that. But in reality, what the Internet did is start a phenomenon of friends like FRIENDS. A sort of ‘I’ll be there 24x7’ paradox. What we failed to realise was that most of the times, the truth is '‘I’ll be there for 24x7 until we have an argument about something or a fall out’.


See, I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen in real life or in offline friendships. They absolutely do. Honesty is an integral part of friendship. And as you'd imagine, sometimes honest conversations are difficult and there can be minor upsets. But there's something glorious that happens in the physical world of friendships; one that the online world cannot replicate easily. We learn to push through and forgive each other. You earn that intimacy. You learn to trust again and then laugh about the incident one day over a cuppa.


The base issue with online friendships these days is that we’ve reached a point  where we now know what you had for dinner yesterday night or what you did while on holiday - stuff that only your immediate family and friends would previously know. The Internet has us leaving our footprints everywhere - from checking in to places to live-tweeting events. In fact, I’d say our online friends and acquaintances probably know much more about our activities than our parents ( or even we) do at times. And that lures us into this false web of intimacy and makes us believe that we really know this person well. It even helps us feel connected with each other in some inexplicable way.


There is also this superficial feeling of intimacy that the online world gives us. In a lot of ways, we are living like how they depicted friendship in FRIENDS twenty years ago. Except that we’re living it online. And that’s where the core challenge lies. Accompanying this false sense of intimacy is a lack of commitment. That unsaid pledge of wanting to make the friendship work.


[tweetthis twitterhandles="@iwrotethose" displaymode="box"]Often what worries me most about online friendships is the ease with which they can be switched off[/tweetthis]

It’s as simple as clicking a button. You may not even come to know about it for weeks until you try to ping someone (perhaps to apologise or even re- connect). And sometimes, that realisation feels like you've been sucker-punched in the gut.


It has become so easy to walk away from relationships that are online, that we’re no longer compelled by the urge to find out what caused a rift in the first place. Would you walk away from a person you are friends with in the offline world without explaining why? At the very least, you’d try and give it a shot once to clear any misgivings. But online, you no longer need to. Even our reactions have become too ‘spur-of-the-moment’. It’s like we’re on a TV show with a live audience - we just need to give it back in kind when someone disagrees with us, even if it’s a friend. If not, what will the others who’re slyly reading this, think? We even start to feel that each LIKE on a passive-aggressive status is like a point against you. It’s strange how the internet messes up with the human psyche, isn’t it?


There’s something about physical interaction that makes us a better judge of someone’s honesty and intimacy. It’s a lot more difficult to ascertain these qualities when they’re being hidden behind the constant barrage of emoticons, LOLs, Haha!s and ROFL’s.


According to my FB friend list, I have over 700+ FB ‘friends’. The reality though, is that most of us are acquaintances at best. Some, not even that.  And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, some of the people who I would quite literally trust to ‘have my back’ started off as acquaintances. But there’s a difference. What elevated most of them to friends who would definitely ‘be there for me’ is something else - the fact that we’ve either met in person a number of times; or that we’ve spoken to each other offline on the phone. In fact, I write this post on the back of a mini-meet that I’ve had with some bloggers-turned-friends. Yes, ones who were once acquaintances, but now good friends. And I can honestly say this - despite the fact that I’ve chatted with a few of them hours non-stop, it’s the meetings that have made us closer.


To sum up, I’m not against online friendships. In fact, I’m totally for them. If it wasn’t for the Internet and the people I’ve met online, I would be a far less interesting person and a loner, to say the least. But we need to take the time and effort to push our online relationships, offline. Be wary and careful alright, but if you really want to become good friends and remain that way - commit to it without being fickle. We’re all from different walks of life with diverse backgrounds - so misunderstandings will occur; you should just want to give it the benefit of doubt before pressing that unfriend button.


So here's to making friends who spread joy, not just when there’s a green dot next to their names, but also when you chat for hours over the phone or over a cup of coffee and a slice of cake.  

I know I’m fortunate to have forged a few ‘online’ friendships that are even better ‘offline’. And yes, you know who you are :)

My good friend - Shailaja, (an online friend who is now an 'offline' one too) also wrote on this topic a few weeks back. Do read - if you liked my post, hers might resonate with you too.