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May 07, 2010



I think the interplay between online and offline relationships is fascinating and (at the risk of a plug of our own) is something we discuss a great deal here at Canvas8 (we're a consumer research house looking at what people do, how and why). I think Caroline makes an interesting point about "modern day penpals" - email and the internet is really just the next step on from mail sent by post.

What's really interesting is how people are forming these virtual relationships and how the lines between online and offline are becoming increasingly blurred (what Alan Moore calls 'blended reality'). Technology is playing a huge part but the rise of tools and services such as Foursquare, By Association or Neighborgoods suggest a desire to 'legitimise' these virtual relationships and make them real (another good point made by Caroline about grounding them in the physical world - will we reach a point where this practice is reversed?). Taking things to another extreme, the trend for 'slow and simple' (as a backlash to impermanence) has seen people drastically reduce their online life in a bid to get back to the real world (the now banned Suicide 2.0 is a great example of this).

Mark, we'd love to discuss this idea and your work in more detail if you had time?

Mark Vernon

botogo - You're quite right. (At the risk of a plug, part of my book looks at just how fascinating and varied the word 'friend' is.) Here, you might enjoy Tim Lot's witty reflection on the subject, from his novel White City Blue.‘For a start there are friends you don’t like. I’ve got plenty of those. Then there are friends you do like, but never bother to see. Then there are the ones you really like a lot, but can’t stand their partners. There are those you just have out of habit and can’t shake off. Then there’s the ones you’re friends with not because you like them, but because they’re very good-looking or popular and it’s kind of cool to be their friend. Trophy friends... Then there are sports friends. There are friends of convenience – they’re usually work friends. There are pity friends who you stay with because you feel sorry for them. There are acquaintances who are on probation as friends.’


Most of the people I have "met" online that I would call "friends" I have met at least once in the "real world". There are one or two that this doesn't apply to thanks to distance - I've never met my Texan friends for example, or one in Canada... but with these I have exchanged gifts and letters via post, which somehow ties the friendship down to the phsyical world. I think online friends are the modern-day equivalent of penpals, and as such we need a word that denotes that relationship.


I think the problem here is one of vocabulary: there are many types of relationships all bundled into the one word 'friend'.

It is true that that an internet-type of friend is different from a neighbour-type of friend, or a golf-type of friend. But they are all friends.

Just as icelanders have twenty-three different words for 'ash' perhaps we need some different words for 'friend'

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