On cyber relationships and online communications

It’s a funny thing but, having only been blogging for 4-5 months, I realise that I now have a load of new friends through this endeavour as well as feeling like I am part of a dynamic and fast-moving enterprise which is quite exciting in itself. Obviously I have also been living partially in cyber-space for as far back as the introduction of Friends Reunited (remember that? Part of the dark, distant past of the social networking world!) and I jumped into FaceBook with both feet (bypassing the likes of MySpace and Bebo) a long time ago too.

Its interesting to see how different people like to use the available social networks (or just not bother using them at all). FaceBook usage has definitely changed over time with people who may have been regular users to begin with getting bored and dropping away to the occasional peep in through the door to see what’s going on. Others have a profile but never visit and then there are those who update a status once in a blue moon but never provide any real insight into their lives.

My mum and dad regard social networking with suspicion – wondering why on earth we want to share personal information with people in this way and worrying about issues of privacy and identity theft.

Personally I find the immediate and accessible nature of communicating in this way to be a massive positive in my life. With other friends from real life who live a long way from me (on the proviso that they fully engage with the medium) it is a way of maintaining a week to week relationship with a real working knowledge of what life is like for them (even if we haven’t managed to see each other for months or even years). We all live busy lives and sometimes we just don’t have the time to engage through other media when the quick status update or Messenger check-in allows us to touch base without getting into a full blown conversation. Of course there are times in our lives when the sound of a friend’s voice is the only thing that will do. My time with new-born babies springs to mind as a point in my life when I have crumbled somewhat and I knew that my best and oldest friend (who also experienced parenthood before me) would be there at the other end of the line to talk me through my (temporary!) panic and depression.
But on the whole, with life ticking over on a relatively even keel, I am happy to engage with my friends through the medium of cyberspace on a daily basis.

Before you suck your teeth in and shake your head wondering what kind of loser I really am, let me just point out that I engage with people in the real world on a daily basis too – I see my family every week and engage with work colleagues and friends who I have made locally through the parenthood experience regularly so its not like I’m sitting in a darkened room on my own with just a flashing cursor for company.

What I do find though is that it is easy to make friends online when you can see exactly what kind of person someone is from the way they write, the thoughts that occur to them and the way they choose to put it across. There is an immediate sense of “this person is on my wavelength”. Meanwhile others may criticise or completely fail to understand where you’re coming from, assuming that the online medium is some form of crutch for those who are socially inept or incapable of forming a ‘real’ friendship.

I think social networking is particularly useful to those of us with small children who’s ‘spare’ time (bah ha ha!) is precious – letting us share our photos and experiences – both good and bad with a wide range of friends (some of whom will know immediately and exactly where you’re coming from and might be able to offer some empathy or helpful advice at times of uncertainty). It is not about lonliness, it is not some sort of ‘cry for help’, it is allowing yourself to be absorbed into and engaged as part of a community. It does not replace face to face relationships, it is all about sharing and allowing others into your life.

Apologies if this post is preaching to the converted. Until recently I assumed that we were pretty much all singing in the choir on this one but apparently not! If you disagree and think I’ve got it all wrong, please comment and tell me why.