Arijit said, “I was thinking about my best friend when I sang – Na Fikar, na sharam, na lehaaz ek baar aaya.” We saw the 90’s audience roll with the tones of, “Dosti mein, no sorry no thank you and dosti kee hai, nibhaani to padegi.” Shahrukh became the nation’s heart throb when he confessed, “Pyaar, dosti hai”, while it struck a chord with us when we heard, “Pyaar mai junoon hai, dosti mai sukoon hai!”
Friendship has been a prime theme in Bollywood, and rightly so because it is pivotal to our existence. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that friends are God’s best gift to mankind. They are not related to us by blood but by bonds of kinship and love; they are the family we choose for ourselves. They make our life easier and so much more fun that it’s next to impossible to imagine a life without friends – such is the importance of friendship. Friends are for keeps for they stand up for you when the entire world would leave you to struggle and languish during your bad times. Every stage of life brings along an opportunity to make a friend – a confidante who shares in your happiness, sadness, and struggles. One would make a friend at school, at tuitions, at sports academies, at inter-school competitions, at college, etc. Nowadays, however, as people become more engrossed with their phones and tablets, making a friend over the internet has become common too.
Friends over internet – Do we need them?
Social connections are important for a person’s emotional wellbeing. The need to be loved and being appreciated is almost as basic as the need for food, clothes, and shelter. Whether it’s a girl squad, a boy’s gang, or a group of nerds, we all have a set of people who provide spark to our life and who we relate to better than with anyone else. Most of us have close friends, best friends, social friends, work friends, childhood friends and many more. Of late, a new category i.e., online friends seem to have taken over.
As a growing number of people choose to stay indoors more than being outdoors, turning to social media has come naturally. It allows us to continue fulfilling our innate need of social connections. No wonder it is a boon in times when gadgets have become a part and parcel of our lives – had it not been for the online friends, machines and not people would become the friends of a human being. Hence, these social connections add a little bit of normalcy, making our lives look more natural. People seek to chat with people on the internet as it’s easy and convenient. Making friends over internet transcends physical barriers and helps one grow beyond their comfort zone. Online friends living in different parts of the world provide different perspectives to life. One needs to be a tad careful though; if not used judiciously, social media can be a pain in the neck, not to forget risky too. One might end up making fake friends as you can never be sure who you are talking to behind the screen. Finding an imposter on the internet is far from uncommon. In this blog, we will weigh the pros and cons of online friendship. With malice towards none and fair judgement to both, let’s look at the bigger picture and evaluate the fact if online friendship is worth its weight.
“Beware of unnecessary bantering behind the veil of a screen. Words without substance are deceptive. Nothing beats the comfort of a warm hug, an assuring glance and encouraging pat from your general friend.”
Friendship depends a lot on physical visits and presence. Emojis and GIFs cannot replace real feelings of happiness which are assertions of facial expressions and body language, although the young generation has gotten used to this and the older ones are soon catching up. However, authenticity of a person on the other side of the screen is always questionable. It is undeniable that with a screen in between, deception is so easy that anybody with a lowly moral compass would do everything to take advantage. Online, one could end up meeting sexists, misogynists and perverts portraying a false front – making comments that could impact a person’s emotional wellbeing. Internet gives people the liberty to say anything and everything without taking accountability of their words. Online friendships can be marred by the same challenges.
Your online avatar can be totally different from the real you. Most of the time, people project themselves in the best light. They can create an aura which is fraudulent and misleading. Those crying hearts and virtual praying hands might rob you of your savings in the name of donations, charity etc. Besides, not everybody is adept at communicating digitally, leading to misunderstandings.
The times of the internet bring with them some challenges, but are we even humans if we don’t find a way around change? A person will tumble and fall, only to get up again and apply the lesson learnt.
– in this case, not the lesson of giving up online friendship, but the lesson of being more cautious so that online friendship can be as fulfilling as a conventional friendship.
According to Aristotle, “Friendship is the key to human happiness and we need friends around us to feel happy.”
If we go back to the Aristotelian time, he argues that a shared life is always superior because human wellbeing and social activity cannot be separated; hence it is better to engage in practical activities with a friend than to do it on one’s own. He outlines three types of friendships: ones based on utility, pleasure, and one on mutual appreciation of each other’s values.
Business partners and work relationships come in the first category where you enjoy time spent together while working together on a common project but once the situation changes, so does the nature of your connection. Then there are friendships based on mutual interests and love for a sport. Here people are part of a sports team and indulge in activities that give them an adrenaline rush. These are accidental friendships which might be devoid of emotional attachment and may end as soon as the tastes and preferences change. Online friendship could be similar too. Some might get lucky to find real friendship over the internet but some of them might lack depth and not be worth one’s time. The final form of friendship that Aristotle defined is based on mutual appreciation of each other. You are more likely to connect at this level when you have seen each other at your worst and are still comfortable with it.
But then what’s wrong with it? Online friendship is good for people with social anxiety
Samaira says, “Online friends are better than general friends. There are people like me who struggle with social anxiety. I take a long time to open which is acceptable in the online world and I don’t feel as anxious. My uncomfortable social encounters have been a reason behind my loneliness and my introvert nature prevents me from making friends. Online friendships worked for me as I could express myself more freely, take my time to know the other person, and be comfortable at my own pace.” As per Indian Social Media Statistics, 2022, an Indian spends about 2.36 hours on social media daily. There has also been a sharp increase in social media users to a level that the common perception says – if you don’t exist online, you simply do not exist. Despite the concerns of lack of privacy and one’s web history being used for business purposes; people love to be on social media platforms and be constantly in contact with their online friends.
Unlike real friends, online friends may not know you physically in the initial phase, but this does not stop the bond to grow stronger over time. Imagine having a friend, who will not judge you on how you look, what you wear and how you react. Feels too good to be true, but this is a reality in the virtual world. Birds of a feather flock together, and you are more likely to find your flock online rather than in real life. There are sites and tools which help you find people who share your passion, a choice not easy to get in the real world. Video chats, emojis, and GIFs have helped people connect better by giving a voice to written texts. Sharing memes and stories has become a sign language for online friends.
It is easier to open up to your virtual friend as there is no shared connection and no chance of your secret being spilled to the people you know. Besides, they are always at your fingertips. There is little scope of jealously as one doesn’t know the material aspects of an online friend, and they occupy their own space in one’s world. Even when the pandemic made it impossible to catch up with your gang, our online friends were a great respite. Nothing changed with our digital friendships and the bonds grew even stronger as we had more time at our discretion.
Despite the many advantages of having a friend in the digital space, online friendships can be as risky as it gets, and one must be cautious of the lurking dangers around them.
Most of the online friendships are accidental than intentional. Accidents hurt but safety doesn’t.
According to www.pewresearch.org, most of the online friendships stay in digital space as only 20 % of the teens end up meeting an online friend in person. Over internet, people come into your life in an instant and might disappear even sooner. Getting too attached to an online friend is not good if you are an emotional person. The void they leave behind is not easy to fill and you end up looking for them in every person you meet online. Things become worse when they don’t have a face and disappear overnight without a trace. Waiting for them to come online may result in social isolation and feeling of loneliness.
Online friendships can be deceptive, and you have to be on your guard before falling for one. Online personas are different than real life personalities as people tend to portray themselves differently in the online world. At times, it becomes difficult to read their vibes and the absence of body language can make matters worse. If you grow particularly close to an online friend, any act of ghosting or an argument may make the distance between you even more painful. With no limits to where your online friend may be – which in some cases could be on the other end of the world – a sad reality of internet friends is that most will never meet in person. Many a times, it could be due to lack of resources to reach them to meet in real, but at others, it could be because they are evasive. It is entirely possible that an online friendship could make you live in a fantasy world, only to meet a painful end.
“On a lighter side, even if you know how something is going to end, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ride. Whether it is real friends or online friends, exercising moderation is the key.”
To sum it all, friendship online or offline is good if it works for you. There are people who have found online companions turned lifetime friends sitting thousands of kms apart while there are some who were duped and cheated upon by fraudsters. For online or real friendship, you just need to be true to each other. Rely on your judgement, read signs, do not divulge sensitive information, trust your instincts, and don’t fall for things that fit your time slots and convenience.
“A good friend is like a four-leaf clover: hard to find and lucky to have. There is nothing one would not do for those who are really their friends. True friendship comes when the silence between two people is comfortable. Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain, so let’s keep our eyes and ears open when we take anyone as our friend – online or with physical visits, so that the essence of friendship is not maligned!
Author: Ms. Jyotsna Arora, TGT Social Studies, MRIS 46, Gurugram.