Online versus real life relationships

In our hyper-connected world, Internet friends are there for us.

Catherine Streng, Writer

“Don’t talk to strangers on the Internet,” the older generations told us millennials as we grew up. Of course, I did not, considering my main source of entertainment on a computer was Neopets and the pinball game. But now, I do it all the time.

Social media surrounds us, and it is just that — social. When we tweet, update our statuses or blogs, we are not throwing words out into a lonely abyss, but rather connecting with others. So it is no wonder I found several friends online.

“Where did you meet so-and-so?” People will ask. “Online” tends to be my short brisk answer because I know what comes next — the “oh” and disapproval look. “Online friends are not real friends,” people have told me on numerous occasions. On the contrary, I believe they are.

“A commitment to your happiness, not asking you to place the friendship before your principles, and a good influence,” are what makes a friend worthy of the name, according to Psychology Today. My friends, whom I have met online, are always willing to lend an ear. Contacting them is no worry, because when I message them with fears and struggles, they respond with caring advice. My friends inspire me to reach for my dreams and be the best person they know I can be. They rejoice in my joys and they feel my pain.

Yet, people tell me friendships must be physical, for how can they support me when they cannot hug me? Or help me when I run out of gas on the side of the road? To this I say — because I moved around a lot throughout my lifetime, I have many friends in different areas whom I have not been able to see in person for a long time. I am lucky if I get to spend time with my Tennessee friends two or three times a year. I have not seen my Costa Rican friends in over six years. Despite this distance, I have never received a comment stating our friendships are inadequate or not even friendships at all. But they cannot hug me or run to my aid, just like my online friends.

I am lucky to have found several of my friends online, including my current roommate. We first connected two years ago, while I was still a student at the University of Tennessee, on a social website named Tumblr. After messaging for months we exchanged Facebook, phone and Twitter information. After communicating for even longer, I knew she attended a small Christian university in Southern California. My family had always encouraged me to go to Biola and I was beginning to think about it. I asked her if she knew about Biola and our excitement grew as we discovered she attended Biola. I decided to transfer and we have been roommates ever since.

I have so many other friends all over the world thanks to the internet — Germany, New Zealand, San Diego, New York and Hawaii to name a few. They might not be able to come to my room to help me move out, but I deem them just as important to me as the friends I have here at Biola. I am thankful to have been blessed by the wonderful people in my life — online and in real life. After all, Aristotle says, “For without friends, no one would choose to live.”

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