Anti-Aging: The Snakeoil of Our Time
Ronni Then and Now

The Nature of Blog Friends

Internetdog

Earlier this year, I published a lengthy post about the benefits of blogging for old people. Among those benefits are new friendships, something that becomes particularly important when, as we get older, families may live far away, retirement removes daily interaction with colleagues, spouses and friends die and for some, as the years pile up, getting out and about becomes more difficult and less frequent.

And so, there are fewer opportunities to enjoy old friendships or to make new ones. Isolation and loneliness can become problems and are known to negatively affect health and mental acuity.

But blogging opens up a world of intimate connections and even for those who are not alone – or old yet – blog friendships are rewarding. Why else are we here every day? Yes, much has been written of the ego gratification of seeing our thoughts in print and having people respond to them. That is not to be dismissed. But I think as we become accustomed to it, the personal connections we make over the months and years of blogging take on greater importance.

Next to nothing has been written about the nature of blog friendships. They often develop, I think, when a blogger, writing of deeply personal feelings and events, touches another who has lived a similar experience. And even without revealing innermost secrets, we come to know and be drawn to one another through reading of our shared interests.

Email is then taken up, and a friendship burgeons, blossoms and grows although in most cases, we never meet in person. Do these friendships, I wonder, have the strength and “stickiness” of in-person friendships? I haven’t been blogging long enough yet to be certain.

My friend Sali and I met in 1969 or 1970. She subsequently moved to Israel and our face-to-face visits have been few in the 35 years since then. In recent years, email has kept us in closer touch, but we write in bursts and sometimes months can go by with little more than quick “hi, just checking in” notes. But when we see one another, we always relish the fact that we pick up the conversation as though we had seen one another just last week – as though no physical absence of great length has intervened.

Sali and I have a long-term, in-person history. Is it different, do you think, when we don’t know what someone we’ve come to feel a closeness with looks like?

Many of us publish photos of ourselves from time to time and even a video now and again. But what we don’t know is a blog friend’s body language, facial expressions, way of expressing themselves in speech – and what they might say in conversation without the advantage we have on our blogs of thinking it over first, editing ourselves and putting our best feet forward.

What I am wondering is how this changes the nature of online friendship compared to in-person friendship. In my early years of reading blogs, before I started TGB, I was often astonished at how personally revealing many bloggers are. Much more so, I think, to unknown readers than most of us would be in the first few meetings with a new in-person friend.

This might be an advantage to getting to know another better; sometimes it is easier to be honest at a remove from one another. On the other hand, there is much to be discerned about people non-verbally – the look in their eyes, the kinds of clothes they prefer, whether they are the touchy-feely sort or not, etc.

“On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” How DO online and in-person friendships differ? I wish some people more thoughtful and articulate than I am would put their minds to the nature of blog friendship.

[See also All My Blog Friends Live Close By]

Comments

Meeting a blog friend for the first time can be awkward. I did that a year ago and there were many pregnant pauses interspersed with nervous babbling. I remember saying to myself, "Knock it off! You know what kind of underwear her husband wears for God's sake." Now we meet once a month or so for coffee and she bakes goodies for my finicky housemate.

I have found new references creeping into my language when I talk to people in the "real" world. I say things like, "my blog friend S. is having a baby" or "my Internet friend so and so is doing such and such."

As a caregiver I'm only out of the house for an hour or two a day and often feel the limitations of being "shut in." My blog friends are important social connections and an unbelievable support system. And there have been times when I've been able, I hope, to reach out to someone in a similiar way.

It's new ground but I think in the end, friendship is friendship. In one way or another we all put our best foot (feet?) forward with friends. There's only ever that one person, maybe two, who not only know where the bodies are, but helped you bury them without asking why.

"My blog friends are important social connections and an unbelievable support system. And there have been times when I've been able, I hope, to reach out to someone in a similiar way."

This is very true for me. I came to Philadelphia only weeks before I started blogging. It was the hardest move I have made where I felt I lost the ground from under my feet. At the same time I was experiencing a very painful, slow, subtle and terrifying "cutting me off" from a very significant family member. My anxiety was acute. Pain and loneliness - deep.

And then I started a new job in a different area, with absolutely no support system, and struggling with feelings of anonymity. On my first day on the job, one of my blogger friends had taken the trouble to find out where I was working, my new address and mailed a card to welcome me. I was overwhelmed with joy! All the loneliness melted away. Not to mention how I race home from work to see who might have commented, sharing opinions and feelings on my blog.

Blog-friendships have saved my emotional life this year. I will never forget it. I simply don't know what I would have done without them.

The intimacy, for me, is in sharing our inner lives, opinions, thoughts and feelings. Somehow, through writing, I am able to do that much more easily than in person.

You are about as articulate in discussing issues as anybody I know, Ronnie; but for me, my first online begun friendships (both men and women) started 8 years ago and came through chat rooms that back then were not the meat markets they later became. I have met ten for real-- sometimes with spouses and sometimes not and some more than once.

It can be complicated meeting given the distance between most of us; and some, although we e-mail or talk regularly on msn messenger, we have yet to meet but will.

In all cases, when I've met someone, we had the same relationship in person as we'd had online; however, I have never met anyone I had not been 'talking' to for quite awhile and have heard scary stories from others who started out in chat rooms and met people for real who had totally faked who they were.

Since blogging is new to me, I haven't met anybody from this world, but have read some blogs by people I am pretty sure I'd like and enjoy meeting.

I have a few good online friends where we do share parts of our lives we might not tell a local friend. We get together for real when we can and sometimes have met in our homes, sometimes at nice vacation spots. I know of those who meet in large groups (seems like that would particularly work for bloggers where communities are formed), but I have never tried that.

For me online friendships are real people and real connections.

You know, I should have made clear that I wasn't talking in this piece about bloggers I've met in person through TGB. Those few have worked out so nicely - feeling that I've always known them. And I also meant to exclude those I've spoken with on the telephone from time to time.

I'm wondering more about the ones with whom we exchange a lot of email and feel very friendly toward, but are unlikley to meet in person. They feel like friendships, but I wonder how they are different for not having a face-to-face relationship.

I have two very dear friends thanks to the internet - one from an online book group in 1995, the other via the genealogical research for my book. The first, conveniently, lives here in Atlanta. We met and hit it off from the git-go. The other I didn't get to meet until I went to England in May. Again, we hit it off in person even better than online.

With blogs, however, we're talking a different animal. You're right that we'll probably never meet our blog friends face-to-face since bloggers are a very diverse group - spread all over the world, all age groups, interests. Still, I feel I've increased by friendship pool in very important ways.

Any sociologists out there willing to take on this topic? I can only imagine that connections will come and go - with some sticking around for a long time - but it's comforting to know that no one has to feel alone and unappreciated whatever their age or background (as long as they have a computer and internet connection, that is).

Veddy veddy innnnteresting.

You said:

"In my early years of reading blogs, before I started TGB, I was often astonished at how personally revealing many bloggers are. Much more so, I think, to unknown readers than most of us would be in the first few meetings with a new in-person friend."

Ronni, I think you've nailed it here. Some former colleagues I join for lunch periodically read my blog and amidst the generally positive comments one remarked that, "I think I've learned more about you from your blog than I did from working with you for 20 years." I told them there is something about blogging that induces that in a person, or as a blogger friend of mine (guess who) termed it, "getting naked" before the world (referring to your Blogher panel).

There is something about blogging that brings out the inner egotist we have previously kept suppressed. We all like to talk about ourselves to some extent, and there is no need to say, "enough about you, let's talk about me." At my blog, it's all about me, and that is a lot of the appeal.

How to describe the difference between real face-time friends and those met through blogging?

Ahh, such a conundrum.

Maybe the face-to-face meeting gets more complicated when adding both verbal (audio) and visual(body language and facial expression) communication; blogging can be less dimensional in the physical sense and moreso in the cerebral sphere.

Hell, I don't know. But, it is different.

WHO in the world is more thoughtful and articulate than you, Ronni?

The only thing different with internet friends than with face-to-face friends, that I can think of at the moment, is that while writing, you get to complete your thoughts. In life, we get interrupted or distracted, and we forget our train of thought. We are allowed, so to speak, with our on-line friends, to finish what we start our to say, so we are "known" by them in a way that we may not be known by real life friends. Does that make sense?

Most of us probably do say more here than we might to our real-life friends. I don't, because some of my family members read my blog and I don't want them to know everything about me. But the people with whom I correspond here in blog-land do know me more in-depth than most do, because I am allowed the freedom to complete my thoughts in ways that I might not in person.

Ronni,
A more in-depth reply is here:
http://tamarika.typepad.com/in_and_out_of_confidence/2005/11/friendship.html

I've been trying to comment on this for a full day now, but the words would not fall together right. Now Cowtown Pattie and Kenju have said, in very diverse ways, what I was trying to articulate.

"...less dimensional in the physical sense and moreso in the cerebral sphere."

"...the freedom to complete my thoughts in ways that I might not in person."

I certainly enjoyed reading these thoughts. I think blog friendships touch a different part of us that needs touching -- they are like spiritual friends. And spiritual friends, I think, are more trusting, more honest, more open. Without fashion, grooming, height and weight standing in the way, and with social stratification reduced to a minimum, they allow us to experience friendship on a different plane. But somehow when they move or disappear it is too sad. As for my blogger friends, I'm not certain I would like to physically meet them. I am just too happy to be judged solely by my character than by anything visual.

Kenju hit the nail on the head. When I blog I am not interrupted, I get to finish my thought. Many times when I am out with friends I feel they can't wait to get their two cents in, they tend to talk on top of eachother. I have even seen this happen on talk shows.

My blog friends listen to me and I too feel they know me better then some of my friends.

Ronni, Reading your blog almost everyday, I feel like I stay always in touch with you.

I have a lot of blogfriends whom I feel very fond of and it's unlikely I'll meet most of them. More of them than not are in the US, all over the US, some are in Australia, and elsewhere, and I'm in England. I do wonder how 'real' these relationships are, how well we really know each other. I'm inclined to think they are pretty real and we do have a pretty accurate feeling for what each other is like. I've just met one other blogger so far. As it happens, I met her today for the second time. We had lunch and talked and talked and when we parted I was stunned to see it was 4 pm! I feel like I've known her for ages, and indeed I have. It IS odd. It IS new. I DO have qualms. But I'm pretty sure it's overwhelmingly positive and that these are precious and infinitely worthwhile relationships.

I've just been having some thoughts related to this topic. In contrast to what some people have expressed, I tend to limit what I reveal in my blog. I still feel rather new to it all, though it's been almost a year since I started blogging. It may have something to do with people who know me only slightly in the real world and then discover my blog - including one coworker. I didn't know so many random people were googling me until I set up the blog! I'm also a fairly private person - god only knows what inspired me to start blogging :-). Mostly I blog about interests that I want to deepen my commitment too - like running, painting, and skill development. Things that I have a tendency to slack off on if I'm not focusing on them. I have a couple of regular readers and commenters (I mean a couple literally) and lately have been pondering this connection with them. What does it mean, if anything, in my life? I find my response to them to be very similar to my reserved response to people I meet in the real world.

To me this resonates with Danny Miller's classic "two Dannys" post. In my comment on it, I talked about the fleeting wkwardness of meeting a particularly cherished blogfriend who's young enough to be my son and who -- like me -- is probably an "inverted extrovert," that is, an introvert with an extrovert hidden inside.

Sorry I screwed up that link. It works, though.

Hi Ronni

Wanted to start by echoing Kenju's sentiments above: "WHO in the world is more thoughtful and articulate than you, Ronni?" :-)

Have been mulling your question over (and trying to remove from the equation all the lovely blogfriends whom I HAVE met in person!) and I think the difference between my friends and my blogfriends comes down to:
- the fact that my blogfriends encompass a much broader spectrum (chronologically, geographically, linguistically, culturally) than my other friends could ever hope to. Let's face it - once you are established in a job and a city and a relationship, you tend to meet variations on a particular type of person - people who move in your social circles and are often demographically similar to you. And however much I travel, I will never get to know people in foreign countries as intimately as I have got to know my blogfriends in foreign countries.
- the speed with which you learn about your blogfriends' lives. When you physically meet people, there is a period of formality where you don't know each other and don't feel comfortable exchanging intimate personal details. But with blogfriends, you actually get to know rather a lot about the person from their blog before you ever initiate contact, and you feel more comfortable sooner exchanging details of your lives. Another function of the blogging medium is that you don't have a period of small-talk where you discuss the weather/how late the train is etc etc - you can leap straight in and discuss more important stuff right from the start.

Thanks for giving me a forum in which to ramble on about this...

I find this subject most intriguing. Hope others continue to add their comments and observations.

This is the first and only blog site to which I have ever contributed, so have no perspective to share comparing real world friendships with virtual world friendships established on the net.

I am reminded of the effect of the distancing factor that occurs with the telephone for some, as opposed to communication that occurs in face to face interaction with the accompanying nonverbal cues others have mentioned. For some, this distancing provides a freedom of expression; for others a limitation. At least with the telephone there is the benefit of the sound of the person's voice. With a blog I'm solely dependent on language writing skill, mine and correspondent(s.) I find myself taking greater care with composition, punctuation, spelling than I do with longtime friends in traditional letter writing.

As my long term real world friends, coincidentally, prematurely dwindle in number, I can appreciate the value in forming new, and different, relationships by means of blogs.

I feel some reticence when it comes to security and privacy issues. Additionally, I believe I could be quite content to limit contact to just through blogs.

Please keep sharing your thoughts on the topic.

Hi Ronni, came here from Half-Changed World. I thought you might not see my comment there.

Friendship has a component of obligation, does it not? Friends are not only people you talk with, but also people you help -- or who help you -- when needed. You drive them to the airport so they don't have to pay for parking; you take their kid for a day when they're sick.

So blog friends can lend emotional support just as much as an IRL friend could over the phone -- but other than that, I wonder at the depth of the friendship.

On the other hand, it's easier to confide in someone you're not likely to see in the grocery store, or who can't possibly gossip about you; so an online friend could know more about you than than the one who's kid you watch.

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