Sunday, 25 July 2010

Making friends

Way back in the Dark Ages, when I was a high school student, our German teacher insisted that we each get a pen pal. Her idea was that by writing to someone in German we would enhance our skills in the written language. From somewhere, she obtained a list of names and we were each given one and told to write to them. The girl who became my pen pal lived in Switzerland and her name was Ulla. My written German was lousy and so was her English, but we could both get by in French, (or sometimes a smattering of Fregerglish) so that’s what we did, until we lost contact a few years later. So much for enhancing my written German.

Nowadays, pen pals seem to be a thing of the past, replaced, I think, by internet pals. I’ve been using the internet for five or six years now, and over that time I’ve made quite a few ‘friends’. With a few exceptions, they’ve tended to come and go, depending on my interests. At first, most of the forums I belonged to were adoption forums. Then I got onto writing and illustrating forums. Then came Facebook, though most of my ‘friends’ on there are people from work or from forums I belong to. Recently I’ve even joined a fan forum (ha, fifty years old and joining my first fan club!) and a forum for harpers.

It’s great to talk with people of similar interests. When you live in the country like me, it’s not something you can do easily in real life. Around here, I know only one harper, no one who’s a fan of the particular artist I’m a fan of, and only a few writers, so the forums are a godsend.

But are Internet friends really friends? Many would say no, warning of the dire consequences of believing what anyone says about themselves on the net. True, it’s always wise to be cautious. Things are not always clear. I have one American friend who asked, when we first ‘met’, if I’d ever heard of a small town in Western Australia (she only knew I was Australian). It turned out that she and I had attended the same school a couple of years apart. I was rather coy about talking to her about it at first, mainly because I thought she was a man (well, she has a male-sounding name). When I discovered she was female, I felt very silly. She thought it was hilarious. On the other hand, I’ve met people who have seemed nice at first, but then turn out to be not so pleasant.

I recently saw a statistic, though, that said that one in eight marriages in the US are between couples who met on the internet. That has to say something. It’s a whole new world. They can’t all be wrong about each other can they? Of course, one hopes they spent some time getting to know each other for real and didn’t jump off the computer into the fire, so to speak, but it shows that the internet has become a strong social tool.

I do believe people can find friends through the internet. In fact, there’s a couple of people I would dearly love to meet for real. They feel like real friends. Much to my teenage son’s horror, I’ve even exchanged addresses with one of them. I see no difference in talking to them online than writing to a pen pal. Unlike Ulla, they speak great English and we share a lot in common, especially our sense of humour, which for me is important. If pen pals can meet after years of writing to each other, why not internet friends? I look forward to that day.

(Thanks to Clare for the photo).


Joanne Fox said...

I had several penpals when I was at school. Unfortunately I lost touch with all of them by the time I was about 18.

It's wise to be cautious about the internet, but when you've been in contact with people through their blogs etc you do form an impression of how you'd get on in real life. There are lots of people I think it would be great to meet (though whether they feel the same about me is another matter!)

Clare said...

And that day shall come, Katie!
(Our German teacher also insisted on penpals and their English was always much better than our German!)
Yes, it's wise to be cautious about internet "friendships" but I think, over time, you come to an understanding of how people relate to you and to others and whether they are people you would befriend in "real life". And, as in real life, there are people who might be more internet associates than friends - people with whom you have something in common. (Forum behaviour makes for a fascinating insight into human psychology.)
I resisted Facebook for a long time because I was put off by people with thousands of friends and nothing interesting to say, not to mention the privacy issues. Now, however, I realise how nice it is to be able to communicate with relatives abroad; I've renewed acquaintance with a couple of old schoolfriends living in other countries; and I've "met" people on the other side of the world that I am happy and proud to call FRIEND. (Not sure about their sense of humour - I think they just might be mad!)
Judicious use of common sense and discretion is, as your son recognised, essential but time, trust and intuition also play their part - or so I believe.
Now, where's my Australian phrasebook.....?

Kate said...

Joanne and Clare- I agree with you both.You do get a sense of people over time.If they can keep up a deception over years, they must be extremely clever.

Clare, I'm not mad. I just have a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock. There's your first Australian phrase!

Clare said...

Oh, I love that phrase - must practice using it (because I'm not mad either!)