I read a study a while ago that pissed me off. It talked about the difference between offline and online relationships, with a focus on the chemical reactions that happen in the brain. The general point that the article was making was that online friendships aren’t worth as much because we don’t get the same chemical reactions from clicking “Like” as we do from actually talking to someone.
Now, I take issue with this because the study was obviously bias towards a certain form of online interaction and then put every online interaction under the same umbrella results. It has no space for those of us who honestly care about those friends we only speak to online. It has no idea of the joy that you can feel when you see two people you care about find happiness together. It had no room for the pain you feel when someone in another country is going through hell and you can’t do anything to help them. And, most depressingly, it looks at online friendship as little more than a form of entertainment that will one day simply disappear; a favoured television show about to be cancelled, if you will.
This morning I found out that Dennis, one of my oldest online friends, died in a car accident. I found out when my fiance came in, floods of tears falling, to wake me. I met most of you guys on Opera, but Dennis knew of Kim and I from the site we used before that. In spite of that we’d never really spoken until we met on Opera. We were different enough for it to take a while to get to know him, but eventually we became friends. I don’t think it’ll come as any surprise to anyone that this affects us quite a bit more than the cancellation of a television show.
There are limitations to online friendship, of course. I knew some of his past but, not being in his daily life, I couldn’t tell you what sort of clothing Dennis wore, or his favourite foods. Perhaps he mentioned them at some point and I simply forgot. Perhaps the shock of his passing pushed those details from my head. Perhaps the conversation simply never got there while I was around. But I don’t look at that sort of thing as anything that really matters in the long run.
What I can tell you are the things that actually matter. I can tell you that he always held onto a smile, even as the systems that were supposed to be helping him screwed him over. I can tell you he genuinely cared about his online friends in ways that study could never hope to quantify. And I can tell you that, though he was never as good as he aspired to be, he was a good man and will be missed by his friends.