Virtually Yours

Virtually Yours

With the end of the world on its way, you have to ask yourself – how many friends do I have?

Samantha Steele
Now, let's see ... one ... two ... three... PHOTO: Martinette Louw

Before I get to the point, I just have to say I’m not going to argue with you non-believers, but the end of the world is on its way, you know. Look at the signs. Volcanoes erupting in Iceland! Earthquakes in Haiti, China and Chile (which shifted the Earth’s axis and shortened our day)! A landslide in Uganda! Soccer World Cup ticket sales in South Africa! Avalanches in Pakistan! And I can’t emphasise enough the fact that a volcano started spewing ash and lava in Iceland, under the glacier Eyjafjallajoekull (looks like someone named that thing it by drumming their fingers on the keyboard). A frikkin volcano. I used to have nightmares about unsuccessfully escaping from a volcano induced death. Let’s just say traffic was a disaster (Seriously. My nightmare was about being stuck in traffic while escaping from the candy-red lava pouring hotly, slowly, fatally, over the town).

Traffic
Terrifying, isn't it? PHOTO: modernxclassic.com

Anyway. To put it another way: we all know that the world’s going to disintegrate into an anarchic zone filled with zombies and neighbours perfectly willing to end your miserable existence over a tin of spam. So the question is, who has your back?

Will it be one of your bazillion internet buddies?

Computer land
It just seems to go on forever... PHOTO: Samantha Steele

I have 348 Facebook friends (remember that guy you kind of waved at in the corridor once at primary school? Yeah, I’m friends with his sister) and am following a variety of celebs, journalists, family and friends on Twitter. So quantity wise, I have way more friends than I would have had in, say, the Stone Ages (I always think ‘What Would the Caveman Do?’).

But does ‘more’ equal ‘better’? I guess what I’m asking is, does the internet help friendship? Or does it just make it easier to have far more superficial friendships? I even have a friend on Facebook that doesn’t exist in real life. By real life, I mean she is entirely a digital creation. Helen Hatery McHatingstein (her interests are “Hatin’ on yo mamma” and her favourite music is “Alanis, biatch!”).

Helen Hatery McHatingstein
Isn't she lovely? Is it a smile or a grimace? No one knows. Type 'Helen' into Google Images, and this is what you'll get - right next to Helen Hunt. PHOTO: profileblogger.com

Her creator (this reminds me a bit of Frankenstein) is my friend Jody. Jody and I met last year, and forged an ever-lasting friendship over the fire of an honours degree. Jody and I communicate, essentially, only through the internet. For all I know, Jody could be brain in a jar, witty repartee and sarcastic remarks crackling across Facebook with every snap of a synapse. Hatery was created to end an extended argument on Facebook. She is now friends with people I have never met before (must be her smile).  Hatery’s existence reminds me that the digital world is both real and very, very unreal. After all, following Starbucks on Twitter doesn’t get me any closer to having a gingerbread latte.

It’s easy to get trapped in this parallel universe of information and sarcasm (read my blog on procrastinating – the internet is a tricky devil). Clive Thompson, a technology writer, says that we find Twitter and Facebook appealing because they create “ambient awareness”. Instead of talking directly to people, we absorb, through their status updates and so on, what’s happening in their lives. And while it’s nice to kind of know what’s going on with so many people (my inner voyeur loves that) it’s also sad that that’s become the norm.

Facebook XKCD cartoon
Yeah. It happens. PHOTO: XKCD.com

I recently re-realised that friendship is about more than sporadically saying hi. I value being able to communicate on the net, and use forums like Facebook often to do so. But friendship has to have something more substantial than a wall post behind it. I had an ‘oh’ moment not that long ago when I clicked that a friend of mine had shifted from being a friend to an acquaintance. The effort I was putting in was the only reason our relationship was slowly chug-chugging along. The only thing between me and never speaking to this ‘friend’ again was me. Me on gmail chat, me on Facebook, me by sms. And that’s not friendship. Friends shouldn’t lower your self esteem. So I made a tough decision. I decided that if this friend and I are indeed going to stay friends, he’s going to have to make the effort. A friendship can be maintained on any platform, as long as both parties are working at it. Because you know what, when the zombie apocalypse comes, I want to be able to count on the person I hand my last spade to.

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6 thoughts on “Virtually Yours

  1. Sam Steele, you know very well that we basically only communicate via FB & Twitter coz we currently live on opposite sides of the country (and also because I don’t believe in those new fangled tele-phone thingys). But next year when I move back to the Cape and attempt to steal your gig @ the Plus (for a better salary, naturally) we can hang out in 3D-reality goodness.

  2. Jody, I am sorry. Cut this article by 300 words, and one of the things I cut was explaining why we are such awesome internet buddies. Look forward to 3D reality goodness! I’m hopefully going to be down here (in the windy wet miserable weather – stupid Cape winters) for at least another year anyway. LAFF you!

  3. It’s so weird how things ‘connect’ sometimes – I settled down (if you can indeed do that in front of a computer) to read your blog, after I’ve come home from graduating in a degree during which we studied this very topic… (we won’t argue about the usefulness of my honours degree at this point!)

    Lots of theorists have written about virtual communities and virtual identity. We can (and many do) adopt different personae or identities online, even if it’s unconscious. We supposedly (according to Sherry Turkle) are able to express unexplored aspects of ourselves online, because, well, few people will be able to tell whether you’re lying or not. Especially your good friend, Helen 🙂

    And this is kind of sad – the fact that it’s now easier to lie to our friends and family. It’s so simple to make it appear like you’re happy by the photos you choose to put up on FB or by your status updates. I’m loathe to put everything I feel on FB – as you said, many of your FB ‘friends’ are even that, so why would you want to pour out your heart to them? FB and Twitter and all that VC (that’s Virtually Correct – I just made that up!) stuff makes it so much easier to put distance between you and others, instead of connecting you to them and making the distance smaller…

    Ooookay now I’m depressed!

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