Who Are You Talking To?

written by Flocci

 

There are over 7.6 billion people in the world, most of whom have no clue who you are, nor do you know them. For the first time in history, though, this is changing: these days, it is possible to have friends from around the globe, through growing avenues such as social media and multi-user activities (including video games).

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Through the years, the concept of friendship has evolved. Most people would define friends as people that they value, trust, and appreciate. However, up until a few decades ago, friendship largely manifested itself in a physical way – people would meet up with their friends to go to the movies, have dinner, attend parties, or just stay in to hang out. Spending time together was a fundamental aspect of most relationships, and absence from each other could be an indicator that two individuals were no longer as keen on remaining in a friendly relationship. In modern times, however, the nature of friendship has changed.

With the introduction of the Internet, the very definition of friendship has expanded to include relationships that take place mostly or even entirely online. Because of the connections that the Internet provides, our social spheres tend to be much larger now than they were in the not-so-distant past. As a result, it is becoming increasingly more common for people to have friends from all over the place.

My friend ExiledSeele has been a trusted confidant to me for a few years now. I met him through the popular game World of Warcraft, where he stood up for me when other players were being rude. A few superficial messages turned into regular communications; we often talked several times a week, through text, audio, or video chat. However, I have never met him in person: I live in the United States, and he lives half a world away, in Australia. Though we are separated by an enormous distance, I consider him to be one of my best friends.

My friend GreyFox lives in Italy. Amphal lives in Brazil. Blaze, Superhotie, MeanMachine, and Vaandur all live on the other side of the country. I have met numerous people online, and though I have never physically met them, many of them are good friends of mine.

Though it is becoming more frequent, many people do not understand the concept of online friendship. I and many others have heard multiple variations of the same question: “How can you be friends with someone you’ve never met?”

The fact of the matter is that friendship is no longer dependent on proximity. People today are more connected than ever, through a variety of platforms. Gaming provides a number of these platforms; because it is such a common interest for people, it allows many like-minded individuals to meet and get to know each other. A large portion of video games are multiplayer, allowing for people to team up, battle, or just enjoy the game together. Many of these games require some form of communication between players, so it is not uncommon for people to become familiar with each other and potentially form friendships.

“How can you be friends with someone you’ve never met?”

It may seem strange to be friends with a person if you haven’t seen their face or heard their voice. In some cases, you may not even know their real name. However, online friendships are strong in other ways. Firstly, they are typically founded over shared interests or activities (as opposed to physical friendships, which may develop through convenience or happenstance), which means that there is automatically common ground upon which the relationship can grow. Secondly, the fact that the friendship is made manifest through an online buffer allows people to tailor their interactions more specifically than they may in everyday life. Behind a screen, people often feel more comfortable being themselves than when they are face-to-face with another person. Online, many social pressures and external influences are stripped away, leaving only the bare communication between people.

A number of chat platforms have arisen to help facilitate online communication, such as TeamSpeak, Skype, and most recently, Discord. While texting and calling are viable options for people to talk, other methods are often preferred due to their more developed interfaces. These allow people to communicate through a variety of methods:

Private Messages: These are basically the equivalent of instant messaging or texting. Two people are able to communicate privately, with no input from others.

Group Messages: These are similar to private messages, but they are open to a select group of people rather than just two. One person is usually the admin, or administrator, of the group, and has control over settings, members, and permissions.

Voice Channels: Similar to conference calls, these are servers that allow people to communicate through audio. Members can join or leave at will, giving them instant access to their friends at any time of day.

Video Chat: This is very similar to Apple’s FaceTime, allowing users to chat face-to-face through audio and video. As technology improves, conversations conducted remotely are becoming more immersive.

In some people’s eyes, a friendship with no physical or in-person aspects is not a “real” relationship. However, the millions of people interacting with each other online on a regular basis may beg to differ. As technology progresses, so does our ability to interact with each other and form meaningful relationships, even when separated by states, countries, or even continents.

Friendships are only one side of online interactions. We will discuss another important aspect, online economy, next time, in Part 4: What Are You Buying?

 

 

 

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