The weirdest thing about virtual friends is not that they exist any more – it’s the fact that they’re already socially accepted and integrated by most of us as part of everyday life.
I can remember almost 10 years ago, when I suggested to my then-girlfriend that I was going to Cambridge for an evening to play videogames with a group of people that I’d only ever spoken to online. She thought I might be slightly mad, which wasn’t helped by the host having the username ‘Spanx‘.
Not only did I return, but over the years we even hosted meetups at our house. Although I can’t blame my ex for scheduling a night out with her friends as we filled the house with consoles, TVs and projectors before 48+ hours of Halo and junk food.
Since Xbox Live and online gaming reduced the need to meet in person, I’ve regularly hung with a new group of people, spread out over a wider area. Some are friends offline, but some I’ve never even seen in pictures, let alone in real life. And yet I speak to them more than most of my offline friends and family.
But whereas people would look at me curiously and consider it slightly odd just a few short years ago, it’s now seemingly acceptable amongst most of the people I know. The growth of social networks, the huge surge in online gaming, and the introduction to friends of friends online means that most of us have connections which are somewhat tenuous. And even non-existent beyond a shared hobby or passion.
In related news, I recently had a message from my American friend Jon, who I met when studying in the U.S in the late ’90s, and who I last saw about 5 years ago when he was on a family vacation. He and his wife Jess left their jobs to see the world in 2012, and came to stay for a few days in the Fens – having lost his phone number when I originally left America, it was only when I happened to spot him on Myspace originally, and then Facebook, that we were able to stay in touch – despite being one of my favourite people to spend time drinking whisky with..
You should check out their new blog, Seeking Fireflies and encourage them to keep going!