Online "friend" is a friend in the true sense. Yet, the possibility of forming true friendships online remains.
Becoming online friends is simplicity itself. All it takes is a few clicks — one for the request, the second for the confirmation.
Of course, not every online “friend” is a friend in the true sense. Yet, the possibility of forming true friendships online remains.
“Friendship is always a two-sided long-term relationship,” says Horst Heidbrink, who researches friendship at the Fern—Universitaet in the German city of Hagen. Just adding new friends in a social network is not the real thing, he says — those friends’ lists are usually little more than electronic address books.
“Instead of intensifying, the term ‘friend’ is seeing a dramatic shallowing,” says Heiko Ernst, chief editor of a German modern psychology magazine. Bits of information sent back and forth are the coin of this new friendship realm. Intimacy is difficult. After all, it’s impossible to be close with more than 50 friends.
British psychologist Robin Dunbar has noted the same thing. A study he conducted showed that people cannot process more than 150 relationships at the same time. But online, quality is quickly replaced by quantity, noted U.S. cultural critic William Deresiewicz in an essay titled Faux Friendship.
Nonetheless, there is some value added from internet relationships, says Sascha Lobo, a blogger and Web 2.0 expert based in Berlin. For example, people no longer have to live near one another to have intense contact. Mr. Heidbrink says pressure—free relationships are also a plus: meetings don’t have to be scheduled and contact can be quasi—permanent.
Ms. Lobo says online social networking also makes it easier to meet new people. It’s easier to get a feel for a person from their online profile than from sizing them up on a disco floor. Physical impressions also take on lesser value, since social networking is all about sharing views and opinions. “Everyone can see those from a profile.” Status messages cement the image. “Similarities and mutual interests get recognised faster this way, or just created in the first place,” says Mr. Heidbrink.
Sometimes the internet brings together two people who would have normally never met. People sharing thoughts about their last trip to Australia might discover a friendship, says Lobo. Shared interests and constant sharing are enough for that, says Mr. Heidbrink.
But it is important to keep web relationships in their place, says Lobo. Aside from real—life friends with whom one also has online contact, he says he sees three levels.
There are online friends, with whom the user has regular contact, even if he doesn’t know them personally. “These are true friends, just ones with whom one communicates via the internet.” Then there are the “Friends,” who may be members of one’s online community, with whom one feels connected. They serve the same role as acquaintances in day—to—day life. “But they wouldn’t necessarily help you with a move.” Thirdly, there are the straightforward contacts. “These are very loose, indirect relationships.” There are no hard and fast rules for online friendships. It is important to bear in mind that one’s posted opinions and status updates can be equally accessible for family, friends and contacts.
Anyone who talks too much about themselves or posts never—ending status updates can quickly get on other people’s nerves.
And never share secrets online, warns Mr. Heidbrink. “Otherwise the friendship can end quickly.” And that can’t be won back quickly with a couple of clicks.