Written by Hazel Davis

Voices

iFriends

Cybermates aren’t as good as real-life pals, right? Wrong, says Hazel Davis, who has forged some of her closest friendships online.

internet friends vs real friends

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Yeah, yeah, I might have loads of Facebook friends but it’s my REAL friends, the ones I see every day in the office, or went to school with who matter… It’s what you’re supposed to say, isn’t it? The internet has ruined friendships. It’s made a mockery of carefully built up relationships. It’s no substitute for REAL LIFE interaction. Pressing the ‘like’ button has replaced caring for people. Online interactions damage ‘real’ interactions.

*sings* Bol.Locks.

I think I am about to break the final taboo and that is to admit that some of my best friends are people I have met online and – controversially – that I have no real desire to meet more than a handful of times in Real Life.

I’ll put this in context (though I am actually by no means suggesting this is in any way superior to meeting someone on a World of Warcraft forum). As a freelance writer, a few years ago, before it was socially acceptable to befriend people you didn’t know on Facebook, I got involved in a couple of online groups, places where writers could bat ideas and problems back and forth.

Through these groups I connected with a clutch of incredibly like-minded people; people who sit alone at home all day, often in their pyjamas, typing on their laptops, writing articles read by millions of people, influencing decisions and generally producing stuff that would make you think they were a lot cooler than they really are. Suddenly I had met my peer group, people I could talk to about my work who knew what being a freelancer feels like and who understood that interviewing a rock star was sometimes the least glamorous thing in your life.

“We are ourselves when we’re vomiting our lives onto the screen, sharing secrets and highs and lows. We are there for each other, always at the end of a keyboard.”

Naturally, we met up a few times and sank a few jars (OK, more than a few) but my relationship with most of these people over the last seven or eight years has been predominantly online. Verbose, sarcastic, cutting emails batted back and forth, shared images (no, not that sort), shared problems and shared joys. And it’s bloody brilliant.

Yeah I’ve got people I went to school with that have been my friends for years (not many, mind). Yeah I have pals I see in real life all the time, some of them not even on Facebook (I KNOW) but would I argue that these are my REAL, true friends any more than my ‘online friends’? Not particularly, no.

Holly and I have been emailing consistently since we bonded over some mutual work. We live in different countries. We’ve written for a few of the same places, we’ve advised each other on numerous pitches and ideas and we’ve sent hundreds of emails. We’ve met once in real life. It was nice enough but possibly I prefer our late-night frantic emails that usually start, “OMG. I am going to kill my family” or whatever. These exchanges are the stuff of life. We are ourselves when we’re vomiting our lives onto the screen, sharing secrets and highs and lows. We are there for each other, always at the end of a keyboard. We work funny hours, we deal in lengthy soul-searching monologues and online angst and our friendship is honest and true.

“How is a friend you see every Friday night when you’re shitfaced and barely say three words to somehow better than someone you have lengthy conversations with every single day by email?”

Another pal and I have a relationship I know would become unmanageable if we actually saw each other more than a couple of times a year. We email and text regularly, we make each other scream (and sometimes wee) with laughter and we share views and observations that I hope nobody else EVER READS. Because I can’t tell you the colour of her lounge wallpaper or even how long her hair currently is (I think it’s brown), is she less of a friend? Nooooooooo.

I have plenty of ‘real life’ friends and the fact I feel I have to put them in inverted commas makes me furious. Some people classify folk as ‘Facebook friends’ and ‘Twitter friends’. Same thing, mate. I don’t call my choir friends ‘choir friends’, despite the fact that the main thing that unites us is that we like singing. How is a friend you see every Friday night when you’re shitfaced and barely say three words to somehow better than someone you have lengthy conversations with every single day by email?

What really makes a friendship? Is it someone you can tell your secrets and problems to? Is it someone who makes you laugh? Or is it simply someone you trust and care about? Yes. It’s someone to whom you can quickly type, “Shit I have just confessed to liking my online friends more than my family. In print” at 2am, that’s who.

@hazedavis

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Written by Hazel Davis

Hazel Davis is a freelance writer from West Yorkshire. She has two tiny children but the majority of her hours are taken up with thinking about Alec Baldwin singing sea shanties and the time someone once called her "moreishly interesting".