I‘ve never been a person who’s maintained a large social circle, and for most of my life have been content to have only two or three good friends at any given time. “Quality over quantity,” I told myself, in no way meaning to malign those who chose to have many friends, but rather to reassure myself that my lot in life was ok too. And, for the most part, I really was ok with it.
Then along came the internet.
Meeting friends online and en masse started for me “way back when” with IRC (circa 1996 or thereabouts) and carried on to the present via BookCrossing, LiveJournal, Facebook, Twitter, etc. The internet changed everything I knew and was familiar with about friendship. I suddenly found my horizons broadened to include a whole spectrum of people from around the world, and including some of them in my life was intoxicating and addictive!
Now, though, after a great many years of online life, I seem to have painted myself into a bit of a corner. I’ve recently come to the realization that cultivating and depending on virtual, long-distance relationships has been to the detriment of building face-to-face, local friendships.
It wasn’t difficult to get here, or surprising even… I mean, think about it! Think of the convenience of chatting with friends online… no worries about what time of day (or night) it might be, no need to get dressed up or spend any money, no need even to leave the house if you don’t wish to! Think about the sheer volume of people one can be exposed to in internet circles as opposed to the amount one is able to connect with in day-to-day life. Meeting friends with whom one has much in common, interest-wise, is far easier in an online setting than in “real life” circles. No, I’m not surprised at all at the place to which I’ve arrived.
Given the choice, I don’t know whether I’d trade what I have. Really, I think it depends on which day you ask me. When I’m having a spirited political back-and-forth on Twitter, you couldn’t drag me away from my computer! But when I wish I could hang out with a friend and talk for hours over a cup of coffee, I regret the exclusive little world I’ve built.
Maybe it isn’t about making a choice between online vs. face-to-face friendships. Maybe in this, as in so much else in life, a call for balance is in order.
Food for thought.