My Digital Friend

By Aaron Grierson

Cyber etiquette.

How many people exist out there that you would call a friend, or even acquaintance? Of all of those people, think about how many you’ve never met. Though I can count the ‘friends’ on one hand, the acquaintances are well over a dozen, and, like graduating high school, many others have fallen from memory since falling off the grid. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel quite so out of place maintaining a few contacts I’ve never met; the people you can engage with online can be very interesting, or of course just as annoying as the kid cracking bad puns in math class. The wonders of the World Wide Web are seemingly endless.

Without a doubt, the Internet is becoming a more and more popular phenomenon by the year. With it comes an increasingly complex set of relationships. Not just with businesses and advertising, banking and shopping online, but with your social life too. As we’re learning, willingly or otherwise, these relationships quickly become necessary to our lives through the integration of technology. We might not all understand it perfectly, but generally we get by. By now most people, especially my generation have joined some sort of “social network” like Facebook, MySpace or Twitter. Predating these social networks are chatrooms, many of which are still operational today. The testimony of their importance is in many places in these social networks. Facebook has a chatting application, many online games have lobbies where people can chat and Twitter’s posting system is so excessive that it’s almost like a chatroom in its sheer volume. Indeed, chatrooms have been around since the late 80’s, and though I don’t know what they were like, I seriously doubt they have changed that much.

Like a coffee shop or a classroom, chatrooms are lively communities where people can come and go as they please. Chatrooms have been numerous since the early 90’s, but their popularity doesn’t reflect this. Unlike major networking websites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, most chatrooms do not have the advertising power and so are lesser known to the general public. The other major contributing factor that affects popularity is the number of chatrooms floating around on the Internet. They are often small standalone websites with built-in chatrooms while there are far fewer social networks. One such example is Meebo, which I only happened across after someone recommended it to me. Not once have I seen an advertisement for the website. It’s easy to see why not many people know about chatrooms, which is why they become semi-closed communities that have to pass through word of mouth, the digital equivalent or simply knowing where to look.

Over time, these communities build up a regular group of people who see many relationships blossom, despite little to no “real life” contact. Often times, as I have seen, heard, and even been a part of, these friendships often breach into the romantic sphere, as two individuals are drawn together through personality alone. It’s a curious twist on social life, especially when one considers the drama most of us are put through in our daily lives. Can these online relationships really be worth it? Are they drama free?

Not really. You will still have to put up with the same rounds of taunting and fighting, although there is hope.  One may find more than before. I say this because the anonymity of the Internet sometimes brings out audacity from the most docile personalities. Of course, most chatrooms also come with a handy mute option so you don’t have to hear all the tantrums and hypothetical fist fights. Some people will offer enjoyable antics and others intelligent conversation that both you and they can enjoy and reciprocate. The former tend to be those who regularly hang around in the same chatroom. The latter is much rarer, even if they can come from the former group. These are the people one should keep in touch with, and often the ones where friendships would form. However sweet a particular person may seem, it’s a good idea to keep your guard up online, just as it is in person.

Aside from the horror stories of teens committing suicide over cyber bullying, there can be severe downsides to taking people seriously on the Internet. There are also downsides to getting attached to a person you’ve never met, even if the attachment takes the form of having become used to talking to them. Just like the friends you have in person, they can flip out at you, sometimes for no reason, and never want anything to do with you again. Which of course leaves a bit of a void to fill and the more you liked them, the bigger the void. This is one of the problems with the friends we’ve never met. Unless you’re causing or suffering emotional pain when getting to know someone in any serious manner, chatrooms, like random people who add you on social networks, are to be dealt with carefully, if not amicably. Then again, I live by the cliché that honesty is the best policy, because if you’re honest, you will be able to tell which people would get along with you, and which ones won’t. Let’s face it, friendships are serious business.

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