by Mike Masnick

Just Because People Are Online, It Doesn't Mean They're Virtual

from the seem-pretty-real-to-me dept

There's a new study out about how people online are making friends online -- which is hardly a surprising fact. However, where the reporting on it gets weird is that the press keeps referring to these relationships as "virtual" friendships, as if the people aren't real. The people are very real, and the friendships aren't "virtual" at all. It's just that the conversations are often kept up digitally. It's also weird to see quotes like: "More than a decade after the portals of the worldwide web opened to the public, we are now witnessing the true emergence of the internet as the powerful personal and social phenomenon we knew it would become." That's really a rewriting of history. The internet has always succeeded as a communications platform. Things like email, BBS's, IRC and Usenet were very much about the social aspect long before the web itself even came along. To claim that it's suddenly reached its potential is misleading. It's just that people are finally recognizing that the social and communications aspect is what the internet does well, instead of trying to force it into being a broadcast medium.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Mike F.M, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 3:05am

    That's just wrong

    To call every friendship formed on line 'virtual' is just wrong. I don't do the whole faceparty thing, but if I did, I would know that I was talking to real people and not a 'virtual' friend, which would be even more sad

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    John Bailey, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 3:08am

    Study states the bloody obvious

    Who hasn't got on a forum or in a chat room of some kind over the years and made friends. The internet is a communications device, so how is this surprising?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Pope Ratzo, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 3:53am

    "..instead of trying to force it into being a broadcast medium."

    This is the heart of the matter, really.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 3:55am

    The Net lets one find 'like minded folk'.

    The reason that the Internet is so effective is that it allows people to find others with similiar interests.

    It also favours those who are not be able to think of a pithyquip instantly since one can review and polish your reply.

    As a result, the replies are thought out more carefully and are usually much more helpful.

    What makes Google so special is that their page ranking - and this is the reason that Google works well, incorporating the human rating of what site has the most interesting information. It is this capturing of the 'human rating' which has made Google work. Why mention Google? Because it allows on to consult other experts and so provide more knowledgable answers. It make all the more true Newtons: "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

    When I 'Googled' this, I learned that quotation was first used much earlier. One more of Google's benefits.

    Two effects of the Internet not really appreciated are:
    1. The speeding up of the transfer of knowledge.
    2. The ability to tap the knowledge and intelligence of thousands of people in a few hours.

    As we now look back 50 years at the 'stone age of science' [little computing power etc.], so in the 50 years time, others will reflect what a primative age WE lived in.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    SkepticBlue, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 4:57am

    What's Old is New

    I never thought of my penpals as "virtual" - just friends living where I wasn't. The net and web have greatly enhanced that kind of experience, but the fundamentals are still the same.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    icabod, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 5:03am

    www != internet

    I think a lot of people get confused about the fact that the worldwide web is not the internet. Social intercourse *childish snigger* occurred as you point out long before the worldwide web existed. However it's only now that we're really seeing the potential of the web itself as a medium for this kind of interaction. Previously it was mostly in IRC, usenet, etc.

    Remember that to a lot of people the web is the internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 5:43am

    Re: www != internet

    Remember that to EVERYBODY www = internet.

    there is no point in trying to say that port 80 deserves a special name.

    To say that the delivery of the communications over one MEDIUM (html) is somehow more or less special than any other delivery mechanism is absurd. WWW= the web = the internet. Regardless of port.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    mx_, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 6:04am

    return www == internet?true:false;

    Icabod is wrong, because "world wide web" and "internet" are synonyms.

    Icabod is right, because for average human internet is the content accessible through the http-based GUI browser on port 80.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    virtually anonymous, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 6:08am

    virtual friends

    My 'real' freinds i would take a beating for. My 'virtual' friends I would only take a 'virtual' beating for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    mx_, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 6:10am

    Consider dynamic content

    The reason the social aspect of http is growing now, and not before, lies in the newly adopted AJAX method. The client applications for usenet and irc were specifically designed for dynamic real-time conversations; whereas browsers could only display static refreshing content until someone came up with a clever hidden-frame/xmlHttpRequest data exchange. Now, browsers can finally play the role of those client-side applications for any "protocol" without the need of something heavy, like java applets. This is an important contribution to social networking for average people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    billie adams, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 6:13am

    Re: heart of the matter

    hi this is dear billie what kind of heart of the matter are you talking about e-mail me we can talk dearbillie my e-mail thanks billie

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 6:45am

    All this growth in internet social activity... DESPITE strange people like "billie adams" lmao.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Me, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 7:37am


    I guess the guy I married is my "Virtural Husband" since I met him online.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    TAD, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 8:08am

    Well, let's look at Second Life for a moment. I count the friends that I've made in Second Life as real, actual friends, however I know several people who have both real life and Second Life spouses (two different people). These people make the same claim as the article that their SL spouse is a "virtual" spouse.

    I don't get it either, but there ya go.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 8:33am

    mx is not quite right

    Internet and www may be used synonymously in daily conversation but they are NOT synonyms. The internet is a super set of the www that also includes ftp, p2p networks, streaming data, irc, im, and all manner of other services not related to the www. So yes www is a part of the internet, but the internet is also much more than just the www.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Kat, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 8:47am

    Not surprising. It's related to another thing that makes me cringe: referring to things that happen offline as being "in real life". (For someone who met her partner online and worked for a website, the implication that online life isn't "real" seems a little strange...)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 8:50am

    Re: mx is not quite right

    The problem here.... is that you are trying to establish a definition for an acronym that does not correlate to the definition of the words that make up the acronym.

    www = world wide web

    World wide = I'm not defining that.

    Web = in this context its used to describe the relationship of a bunch of networked computers. They do NOT have to be only html serving computers, and that was NEVER the intended definition.

    Saying that ( www = html servers ) is a perversion of its definition, and the reason "lay persons" tend to think it means any service delivered over the internet is because thats what makes the most sense when you look at the words and the real meaning of www.

    To the folks that live in the real world, web = www = the internet. There is no reason in trying to pretend otherwise.

    Many folks that work in IT tend to think of www as being their webservers only... but that is to their commmunicative detriment...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Myself, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 2:04pm

    #9, I have a few virtual friends I'd take a real beating for. Not many, but..

    And I have a quick comeback for anyone who opines that online relationships aren't "real" or are otherwise second-class: "email your boss a picture of yourself in the pose, and see how easily (s)he brushes it off."

    And yes, it looks like "web" has taken on the meaning "the whole internet", which I suppose isn't a bad thing. It's awkward for us old sticks-in-the-mud, but lexically I'm okay with it. I tend to avoid the term entirely since it's ambiguous: When I mean the transport mechanism, I say "the internet" or "IP network", when I mean the flash-infested pages I say "html", and when I mean other things, I specify the protocol explicitly. When someone says "the web", I generally assume they mean "the internet".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Dan Oblak -, Dec 2nd, 2006 @ 1:14pm

    Journalism is Dead

    After witnessing the credibility of network anchors tank with every 'it's just entertainment' moment, and seeing one news story continually ignored for another, less relevant one -- and of course the endless panderings of the Left to tell us all what we really think -- it's a wonder that we haven't stopped frequenting the old-school news outlets at all by now.

    But it will take decades for advertisers to realize that credibility comes from dedication, honesty and perception -- they only understand the 'WOW' factor; and that's what today's 'news' agencies are selling.

    'Journalism is Dead' at ...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    darth laidher, Dec 4th, 2006 @ 4:56pm

    you really dont know ur virtual friends unless u actually traveled to meet them, alot of times they arnt the people you think they are. they act one way on the internet and another way in person. because the internet gives them a opertunity to be someone else. ive met a few people from the net and alot of them are totally different from how they act on the net.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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