Growing up in the 70’s all of my friends were people that I knew intimately. That’s what the word ‘friend’ meant to me. This ideal remained unchanged throughout most of my life and the people that I called friends were physical people that I knew and socialised with.
Meeting new people who have shared interests and that you ‘click’ with has always been difficult for me. I have been bored many times by friends of friends on nights out who prattled on about stuff that didn’t engage me, and then again there have been spectacular conversations with casual strangers who have been on the periphery of the company that I was with on particular nights. I often wished that I was brave enough to ask some of these people to meet up with me again so that we could continue the conversations and discussions another time long after the night was over. My own insecurities gagged and stopped me. Half of the time it was probably just as well. Morning sobriety has its own way of negating the previous night’s ‘stimulating conversation’.
Meeting people that we are compatible with is so hit and miss and random. It seems to be reflected in the proliferation of ‘Date/Mate sites’ that are all over the Internet, attempting to match people with similar interests together. In the past ten years because of the Internet and on line social media, the idea of ‘friends’ has become much more complex in one way and yet more fluid in another.
There are places on the Internet where people who have shared interests can gather, relate and chat. This can be a cyber/virtual place where your actual global location has no bearing or relevance to the conversation or interaction that is taking place. I adore this relatively new medium.
As an avid Scrabble player I have discovered and found new friends with common interests on the World Wide Web. I have played games with people who drift in and out of my life and disappear, and I have also made friends with others who I play with regularly and who I have conversations with about stuff that is personal and relevant to our lives. Although I may not recognise them if I met them on a street like I did growing up, some of these people have become very dear to me and are as important to me as the friends that I see on a regular basis in my daily life in Dublin.
I have been an enthusiastic user of the Internet since its origins and I believe that I can distinguish the good and the bad that lies at the heart of it. One of my first online cyber conversations was with a widow called Sally who hailed from Kansas and whose local Council had bought computers for all the far flung people in her locality so that they could chat and keep in touch with each other. They had also provided lessons for these neighbours on how to use the computers that were a life line to this scattered community. She was 76 years of age and was so thrilled to be type chatting (slowly) online with someone from Ireland. She had always wanted to visit, but sadly never got to make that journey. We stayed in touch for years. We had a lot in common as women and we never ran out of conservation when we were on line. We gossiped like old pals with shared history, and I got to know her and her family through our many chats.
The internet has opened up new ways of making friends for me. I have ‘met’ delightful people throughout the world, and I have had the most wonderful stimulating and complex conversations that would not have been possible without this medium. It has illuminated me on subjects, locations and histories that I lacked understanding of, but that have come alive and understood through the conversations that I have had with ‘virtual friends’. This has added a richness, colour and diversity to my life in ways that I simply cannot articulate.
This week I am welcoming a ‘virtual friend’ to my home for a visit. We have been friends for about five years. We have shared life’s ups and downs on line in the same way that I have shared the same events with my physical friends here in Ireland. We have laughed and cried about events that have shaped our individual lives although we have been thousands of miles apart when these events took place.
We started out playing Scrabble, and then we graduated to Facebook and regular on line chats. This weekend we will finally meet face to face. I am so looking forward to hugging her and welcoming her into my home as I do all my friends.
Without the Internet we would never have become pals. Without the Internet I would not have the relationships that I have with many people stretched across the globe.
Growing up in Dublin I had friends that I recognised by their faces, but this has changed. My many online friends may not be facially recognisable to me, but they are part of a global network that is as meaningful and relevant to me as are the people that I interact with physically on a day to day basis.
Friends are people who understand and love you regardless of where you are in the world.
Destiny can be about making real friends in the most unexpected places….