Day 16 I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now

I have discussed with various friends from Facebook about the difference between real and virtual relationships. Friends that are fully committed to the virtual world are keen to emphasise that there is no difference between the two, and those who exist primarily in the real world seem to be equally sure that virtual relationships are infinitely inferior and, on the whole, less valid.

I got very close to some Facebook friends who I have no contact with in the flesh at all, and found them very affecting. I was alarmed in fact, by how affecting they were. In many ways the interaction is much less ephemeral than a verbal conversation; the word remains on the page, like a letter, to be pondered over, re-read and treasured. Hearing people talk with your eyes is a strange experience, watching a live chat scroll by I would try to convert the writing into a voice, weave a personality around the type, ponder on the spaces between the words. There is a resonance there that allows you to hold on to an interaction that everyday corporeal conversations prohibit. Try and recall, word for word, the last chat you had with a mate in the pub, compare that with the email you’ve got from them in your inbox.

But on reflection, I’m not happy living in this cloud, because in the end the apparent solidity of the print on screen is really nothing more than vapour. Without touch, without sound, without smell all we have is a construct that is entirely controlled by the person hiding behind the smoke and mirrors of the internet. Whilst I appreciate that the gap, void even, that gets filled by virtual interaction is playing a vital part in many peoples’ lives (I admit to missing it terribly since leaving Facebook) it is still a poor substitute for friends we can hold in our arms and whose eyes we can gaze into, there is no window into the soul when all you have in front of you is the computer screen.

Maybe I’ll be proved wrong if, an app that is possibly coming to a Facebook page near you takes off. The aim is to allow you to create a (secret) virtual girlfriend who posts to your page so that your friends believe you have some hotty in tow out there in the ether. The hot air that fills your plastic networking doll, is all from you: the site requires you to huff and puff the ideal qualities you seek in a girl in order to breath life into your babe. In four easy steps you go from definition to date, hey presto you have someone to love. Whether this app gets past first base with Facebook remains to be seen but it does make me wonder what it is we are looking for when we go online to make friends.

Clearly many of the people we have on Facebook we either could or do see in the outside world, and we can stay in touch with those that it is harder to travel to. But would you settle for just Facebook Friends? And if the answer is no, then what is really preventing you from just conducting those relationships outside of the forum of Facebook?

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