People may be in our lives for specific reasons: other moms in the play group, or the guys on the softball team, or the others suffering through a 7:45am algebra class. The friendships we make there may only last as long as those shared activities or interests. A few may endure.
Shared purpose draws us to people online as well. We gravitate to like-minded people, whether they agree with our political views, passion for baseball teams, or other common interests.
They fill a hole in our lives. They enrich us. We look forward to their posts and tweets. It only stands to reason that we’d mourn their loss, even if we’ve never met face to face.
But ultimately what I found most interesting was the desire of many people to meet their online friends. They’re connected, but they want to be more connected:
“When are you coming to London?”
“We’ll be in New York the same time!”
“We could meet at the conference.”
In the past year, I’ve met a number of people in person who I’d only known online. Like I said before, little things may have surprised me, but I’ve not been disappointed. If we think of our online friends as “pen pals”, then meeting them doesn’t seem odd at all.
I read an article about a man who lost track with one of his tweeps (Twitter friends), and found out later that he’d died. They’d been in touch for quite a while, but he only found out about the death from a mutual online friend.
He felt bad about two things: first, that he didn’t know the guy had been sick. He’d given no indication in his tweets that he was seriously ill.
Second was worse, actually: he didn’t know how to grieve. He couldn’t contact the man’s family: his Twitter account was deleted and he had no idea where he lived.
And he didn’t know how to explain his grief. How could you grieve for someone you’d never met? How do you explain you were friends with someone, when you didn’t even know what city they lived in?
To me, a friendship is a friendship. The connection you make with another human being is no less valid for making it online.
I read another article about a man who has set out to meet all his Facebook friends in person. I’ll be interested to hear how that works out: if he was disappointed, if meeting them strengthened their connection.
Maybe we just all need to marvel about the advances in technology, the ones that allow us to establish a relationship – personal, not just business – with people on the other side of the world. In all likelihood they’re people you would’ve never been able to connect with otherwise. Of course you’ll miss them when they die. But you’ll be the richer for knowing them.