I've been having thoughts about the LJ friends list function and online friendships in general... I've been stewing on this for a while, and It's time that it was said. kl1964 wrote an entry a few days ago about the concept of online vs. "reality" disturbing him. I have a lot of mixed emotions about this, and I'm going to unleash them.
I've been online since 1991... I was 19 when I first started playing around. The landscape of the online world has changed a lot since then, but the general atmosphere hasn't. There are people who take online interactions very seriously, and real friendships and deeply loving relationships can and do develop between them. I'm not talking about people who play around with Net sex. I'm talking about people who bear their souls. It's why the Net (like any other situation where people bear their souls) can tear a marriage apart. It takes the partners away from each other and toward someone else. The offended party can blame the Internet and say that it isn't real; but it is very real. Too real sometimes. When I meet these people in person after getting to know them so deeply, I am almost never disappointed. It's hard to deceive another person when you are busy being yourself, your true self.
On the other extreme, there are people who just play. They are online to have fun, to get a rise out of other people. They likely do the same in "real life," but the Net makes it easier to be much more ruthless about it. It's possible to be absolutely hateful online without having to take personal responsibility for it because you can hide behind a pseudonym. When I talk to parents or kids about online safety, I tell them that I am generally as distrustful of someone using a pseudonym--and often more so--as I am of someone who is just guarded about his/her personal information. Pseudonyms can protect, but there's a fine line between self-protection and deceit. My reaction to the pseudonym generally depends on other behaviors that go along with it. For example, I expect to see pseudonyms or nicknames on Livejournal; but I don't expect to see an outright unfriendly attitude.
I tend to be very open about myself online. The fact that I'm older by a number of years than a good bit of the LJ community can make me seem "harsh" at times--someone accused me of that recently in reference to my posts on the blindpeople community. I can't figure it out. People seem to mistake bluntness for harshness. I don't sugar-coat things; but I'm not unkind to people. Sugar-coating things might seem sweet; but I find false sweetness incredibly unkind. I don't pull any punches. When I think something, I say it, especially if I think that one person is wronging another. That's just how I am. I grew up learning to take responsibility for my actions, even if I was wounded. Being wounded is no excuse for mistreating someone else, and if I mistreated my family in my wounded state I still paid the consequences for it (and rightly so). Unfortunately, I was often the only one expected to play by those rules. Perhaps that makes me too angry sometimes, and I tend to expect other people should learn a few of the same lessons. If I can learn them, why can't the next person? I am no more or less capable of learning right from wrong; and the only impact of me being the lone rule-follower is that I am a snot, a holier-than-thou. I don't believe I am anything of the sort. I'm just a person, and if I have to play nice and not hurt people then the rules should apply to anyone else. Maybe it's childlike, but it's what I believe. And sadly, what I see online a lot is that people don't play nice at all, and they get very angry whenever anyone expresses anything that's well thought out. They call it "harsh" and tell you to quit talking to them.
Is the Net "reality?" Sadly, it often is. People backstab you, spread gossip about you, etc. It's often just a text version of reality. Maybe a shadow of reality, but a form of it nonetheless.
The LJ friends function... I have always taken it at face value. If I add someone to my friends list, the action has meaning for me--and I assumed for the other person. In some cases I understand that the person is too busy for the development of a "friendship" of any sort (e.g. docbrite, who is a published author and who I added because she lives in New Orleans and I was interested in following her updates after Hurricane Katrina. But for the most part, when I friend someone, it means that I am open to the possibility of developing some degree of friendship. I have no reason not to be. Unfortunately, I have recently learned that it's apparent that not everyone shares my opinion of this function. There are some people I've had on my friends list at their own request who list their MSN info in their profiles but refuse my contact because they think my comments in a particular community are too harsh! Then why express interest in being on my friends list at all? It completely boggles my mind!
Sometimes when I read some of the drama that transpires on LJ and on email groups, etc, I do wonder if this kind of stuff happens "in reality."
Sadly, it probably does.
Unfortunately, I've also seen the other side, where the Net becomes unreal.
Maybe this is just a different version of "reality..." I saw a news article a couple of weeks ago about a couple faking the birth of sextuplets in order to get money. They didn't use the Internet. Many people who do things like this do use the Internet. Their actions aren't always so elaborate--sometimes they're just posing to see how people react to different personae. But this, too, has been done in "reality." There once was a lady who spent a year disguised as a person of another race just to document her experiences. These people are called con artists, actors, researchers... It all depends on their motivation. So in this way, the Net is just another form of reality. To call it "unreality" is a deception--more self-deception than anything else. Why do we need such deceptions? Do they shield us from some kind of pain associated with admitting that reality is something far different and more threatening less understandable than what we think it is?
End of profundity.