Making online friends was fun; getting together again will be great

  • Author Sherry Turkle is an expert on technology and human relationships.

    Author Sherry Turkle is an expert on technology and human relationships. Susan Anderson-Khleif

 
Updated 7/10/2021 6:57 PM

As I've said many times and in many ways, people who are bereaved -- who have lost a dear one -- need to be in social contact with family and friends. The last year or so has prevented most of this needed human contact. The situation is much better now, especially for those who are vaccinated and have friends who are vaccinated, also.

However, many of us learned a lot about the power of "virtual communication" the last 15 months.

 

Some people, including myself, doubted we could really make close friends online -- through email and social media. Until it happened! As it did to me. Live and learn, as they say.

While under strict social distancing guidelines, we had to rely on Zoom, email, texting, social media, the almost lost art of letter writing, and the telephone. Basically nothing in person.

Well, I made quite a few new friends during this period, most of whom I still haven't met in person, but I will. So I have become a believer. It is possible and does happen that one can make and build new friendships online.

This gives me hope for getting to know my generation of great-grandchildren and grandnephews, who live far away and I will seldom or ever meet in person.

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Thinking back to when I worked in business, and when businesses went global, we had to start relying on telephone conference call "meetings" and on email to get projects done. We found our way. It was usually with an in-person kickoff meeting, followed by long-distance telecoms. This was before Zoom, texting and FaceTime -- only voice and email.

Of course, we know there has been dating online for many years and understand that works for many. I personally know several happily married couples who met online. But usually this is followed up by in-person meetings and dating. I am not talking here about that. I'm talking about meeting new people in groups who weren't able to meet in person because of COVID-19, and about other people who had mutual interests but could not meet in person, so they started corresponding online through email, texting or Facebook, etc.

We know the internet is immensely helpful for sustaining friendships and family relationships and communication when living at great distances. But getting back to these fine new friends made online, I think the ingredients are:

• Shared interests.

• Probably shared values.

• Some strong shared experience.

• The famous and mysterious chemistry that happens in friendships.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

There has been much discussion and much written about the pros and cons of online communication and its impact on human relationships and social life. One of the best sources is Sherry Turkle, professor at MIT, and a friend from graduate school. She has followed the evolution of this phenomenon for decades and has written several great books on the topic, including "The Second Self," "Reclaiming Conversion," "The Empathy Diaries," "Alone Together" and others.

Studying online communication and its impact on social relations over several decades, Sherry explored both negative and positive effects. It seems to me she's concluded the net impact is positive, providing there is a balance between online and in-person interaction and conversation. We are best with the human element, not just technology alone. We need a balance, some boundaries. I agree as a user and a person!

So the point is: In my own experience, it's entirely possible to meet new and close friends online. I also believe it's healthy to strike a balance between online and in person. So it's wonderful that friends, both old and new, can start getting together again.

This summer will have so many nice possibilities compared to last year. Hurrah vaccinations!

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at sakhleif@comcast.net or see her blog longtermgrief.tumblr.com. See previous columns at www.dailyherald.com/topics/Anderson-Kleif-Susan.

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