The Power of Cyber Friendships

November 18, 2007 at 12:03 pm (Communication, Friendship, Love, Relationships, Second Life) (, , , , , , , )

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I often wonder what the real world would be like if we could borrow some of the aspects or capabilities from Second Life (SL) and project them into our everyday experiences. Some of the obvious benefits that come to mind include the ability to change from bathing suit to ball gown with the click of a button or the capacity to jet across the universe to our favorite secluded hide-away on the drop of a dime; early boarding card or first class seat not required. One facet in particular I often fantasize about bringing into RL is the concept of SL friends. From the virtual “little black book” known as our friends list to the honest and open communication that seems unique to SL friendships, I think our world could be well served by making these elements parts of our own realities.

For those not steeped in SL culture, the friends list is a list of people with whom you choose to interact in SL. One has to offer friendship to another before you can be included in this personal list. And once you’re a part of it, you are notified whenever this person logs on or off the grid. This all sounds rather rudimentary as many chat clients and IM technologies include this capability to connect. Yet I’d argue that the SL friends list carries some unique psychological power not found in other applications.

The act of becoming friends is a delicious dance that helps us each feel included and important to those around us. There is something very comforting about definitively asking someone to be your friend. Reminiscent of the grade school years, this simple act sets up a clear and pronounced relationship with another person. There’s little of the doubt that clouds the sometimes awkward interactions that happen when we cultivate new friendships in the real world.

Alternatively, the act of deleting one from our friends list can be equally empowering. Unlike real life where unfulfilling and even toxic friendships can linger in limbo slowly polluting our power like a noxious silent gas leak, SL allows us to delete unsavory characters from our list with one click. We can also periodically peruse our catalog of comrades to see who we’ve connected with lately and clear out any clutter. This action often inspires me to reach across the grid and give a shout out to folks I haven’t said hi to in awhile. Sadly, I find that in real life as I get older this simple experience of reconnecting with long lost friends and family has all but dwindled to a trickle.

What I find most amazing about SL friendships, however, is an unprecedented level of openness and generosity toward others. Despite the fact that SL is an online fantasy world, I find that people often open up more quickly, sharing deep and personal details about themselves that provide a picture of who they really are. This allows for a quicker and more intense connection. Perhaps we feel more comfortable sharing deets with peeps online because of the sense of anonymity that comes with virtual communications; we feel more comfortable sharing private details with near strangers given the perceived wall of privacy the internet seems to provide. Regardless of the reason what I do know is that I find people more apt to “talk and hug it out bitch” in world than in my own backyard.

Addendum: A funny thing happened when I sat down in front of my fireplace today for a little relaxation. I picked up the Sunday paper–which I rarely have time to read–and noticed an article on internet friends, or “e-friends” as the paper labeled them. The article titled “The Best Friend You Never Met” was featured in Parade Magazine (that insert in your local newspaper) and included this interesting quote on e-friends: “As more people turn to the Internet for comfort, information or distraction, some are finding a treasure they never expected: friendships as strong as or stronger than their relationships in ‘real life.'”(Parade, November 8, 2007).

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