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Just because you are on my friends list, it doesn’t make you my friend. And if you aren’t on my friends list, that doesn’t mean you can’t possibly be my friend. Livejournal may be a reflection of life, but it’s a skewed one, the sort of reflection you get when you walk into a house of mirrors – illusions, perceptions, misconceptions, and indecision, caught up in a maze of unreality.

First, there is the question of why I put someone on the misnamed ‘friends’ list. It’s not a list of my friends. My friends are not limited to those on my livejournal friends list, and while I would love to say that all 89 names on my friends list are, indeed, true friends of mine, there is no way for me to say that truthfully – it just is not the case. If there were to be more appropriate labels, then I would have to categorize as follows: Some of the people on my friends list are complete strangers to me. I share with others a kind of acquaintanceship, and some have made it so far as to be called favourable acquaintances. Very few of them, however, are given the label of friend. I’m also quite positive that the people that have me listed on their friends lists don’t necessarily consider me their friends.

There are also plenty of people who I consider friends who are not part of the livejournal community. This is to be expected, of course, assuming I have a life outside of livejournal… which I obviously do, otherwise all I could ever write about in livejournal would be the intricate process of updating my livejournal.

Then, of course, there is the never-ending dramas that you find scattered throughout the livejournal community. This seems to have happened in every online community I have ever been a part of, without fail. There are internal politics, cliques are formed, relationships are developed, friendships forged and torn apart, and an uncountable number of virtual *hugs*, *smooches*, *kisses*, *snugs*, and other meaningless words are thrown around with careless abandon. And yes, I had every intention of using the word meaningless in relation to virtual hugs and the like.

In the years that I’ve been online, virtual emotives have come to mean less and less to me with each one I receive. I can barely bring myself to type those words in that context to someone. It feels false, it is not real, and it’s just too easy to type the words… far easier than it is to actually offer real, physical comfort. And while I understand that distance doesn’t permit most online people to be able to offer physical comfort to each other, that doesn’t take away from the shallowness and ease with which people feel they can toss around *hugs* at the drop of a hat. I know it, I used to do it myself. More recently, I find a note with actual content, honest concern for my well-being, even an email to distract from the issue at hand, is far more effective than a comment from someone that they’re sending me . I tune them out now. For some time, they made me angry, but now they just don’t mean anything to me, and if I do type them out to someone, which is rarely, it’s generally only because I think they want to hear it.

I would guess that this sounds harsh to a lot of people… likely to those who offer the aforementioned *hugs* in complete sincerity, and equally to those who accept the same. Keep in mind this is only my opinion, and applies only to me, as with most things that go on in my own mind. If you decide to be hurt or insulted by this, it has little or nothing to do with me, other than my being a catalyst to your reactions.

I find myself distancing myself more and more from online community situations. With the endless dramas, love stories, hate stories, politics, and ongoing saga of pain and depression, I find myself growing colder to people I meet online. This has also led me to stop posting so much of my own life online, which is a strange feeling for me. I have been sharing my life in journal entries online since 1997, and yet I feel that no one knows me strictly through my journal. People may think they know who I am because of something they’ve read in my journal, or maybe they’ve been reading my life for the past few years, but I would not believe anyone who said that they thought they knew me fairly well through my online writings and nothing more.

My journal is exactly that – my journal. Sometimes I sugar-coat things. Sometimes I lie to myself. Sometimes I only give part of the story, or I make myself look good, or I make myself look bad. The tale I weave in my journal is always one-sided – it’s my side of the story, it’s my perception of how things happen. My journal is my own personal house of mirrors. If you look to the left, the reflection is short and fat, and if you look to the right, it’s tall and sickly-thin. Everything in my mind is subject to change without warning, including my own decisions and opinions. And I may well not even talk about the fact that everything has changed, or why. I may hide how I feel about something from myself because I don’t want to admit it. I may change my mind, then change it back over and over again. I may look like an idiot and not want anyone else to notice. I decide what parts of me go into the journal, but there is no way that every aspect of who I am could be there, even if I wanted it to be so… which I don’t.

You don’t know me through my journal any more than I know you through yours. Virtual *hugs*, while nice, are virtually meaningless when real emotions are at stake, when a person needs physical hugs, or words of comfort that have more depth behind them than shallow phrases thrown around equally no matter the occasion, event, or emotion.

Online communities have grown immensely over the past few years, but some things haven’t changed. Since I started spending time online, there have always been dramatics, and people who represent themselves as something they aren’t. There have always been misperceptions and miscommunications, secrets, rumours, and lies, love, sex, friendship and hatred… It seems far more rampant than in our own day-to-day lives in the offline world, mostly because it’s so easy to hide behind the screen, and to misinterpret things that are said. It’s easy to hate someone you’ve never met, just like it’s easy to love someone you’ve never met – they fit your perceptions of who they are. It happens in the physical realm as well, when someone turns out to be something other than what you thought they were… it’s just easier to hide online, so it seems to occur more often there.

I hide behind my words, but so does everyone. We all paint pictures of what we want to see, and what we want others to see of us. Maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about, and maybe you don’t care. What does it matter, anyway? We all believe what we want to believe, and we’ve all been let down before. Chances are it will happen again.

A friend is more than someone I’ve listed on my friends list. Everyone is there for a reason, and I think none of them are exactly the same. Getting upset over being dropped off someone’s friends list makes no sense to me, because for the most part, they were never really my friend anyway – it’s not like I’m losing someone I value greatly in my life. Friendship is not a popularity contest.

25 Comments

  • raviolios

    June 25, 2001 at 5:42 pm

    Every time I think that the online world sucks and I’m gonna throw my computer in the river, someone like you comes along. You are indeed my friend, in whatever aspect of the word you choose. And it’s not about the fake hugs or the licks or the snuggles (although there is a good time and place for those too,) it’s about the connection. As long as we can talk to each other, we will be friends. You’ve kept me from throwing my computer in the river this last week.

  • sawguy

    June 25, 2001 at 5:43 pm

    sigh and a real one at that

    That was very well said.

  • scottobear

    June 25, 2001 at 5:59 pm

    I hear you.

    I think friends/ freind of cold be more nicely named “reads, read by” or something.

  • chicagorose

    June 25, 2001 at 6:05 pm

    JL

    I agree that your rant was well said, for I often feel the same about those who profess to know more about me than I could possibly have revealed online.

    I too have thought about emotives, and wondered how to interpret those received from virtual strangers.. and why I offer them to someone. I suppose I can only speak for myself, but when I offer someone a hug, it is an expression of empathy with their situation . . an empathy I truly feel and feel somehow compelled to share some expression of it.

    Similarly, I have pondered why I have added friends to LJ, why they have added me, and what do I owe them. I have avoided cliques, and fights, and various intrigues, and just take joy in sharng things frm my life. . .and feel gratified that someone else shares with me.

    But it is not a popularityu contest.. that’s for sure.

  • daruba

    June 25, 2001 at 6:18 pm

    very true words.

    but i’m still going to give you an lj hug!

    {{hug}}

    😛

    seriously, well spoken!

    • Jenny Lee Silver

      June 25, 2001 at 7:13 pm

      Yeah, but you could give me a real one too… and you have. And they’re much better. ;P

      • daruba

        June 26, 2001 at 7:30 am

        actually, yes.

        so is real conversation in a bar with friends. Over beers.

        • highlearn

          June 26, 2001 at 8:46 am

          bah

          • daruba

            June 26, 2001 at 10:13 am

            BAH!

            yes, {{hug}}

            exactly.

  • rainer3

    June 25, 2001 at 6:19 pm

    fneu

  • ben

    June 25, 2001 at 6:39 pm

    ‘friend’

    There is a whole spectrum of friendship. It ranges from “they aren’t intent on killing me” to the highest degree of loyalty, commitment, and intimacy. In LJ the friends list is just a list of people you’re subscribed to reading, and people should not try to read more into it.

    • scottobear

      June 25, 2001 at 7:19 pm

      Re: ‘friend’

      some friends want to kill, too.

      they’re just misguided.

  • stephy_banana

    June 25, 2001 at 7:18 pm

    thank you for that.

  • jonsey

    June 25, 2001 at 9:14 pm

    “friend”

    after reading your entry, i feel like i may have misplaced my reasons for adding people to the “friends list” i have perhaps 2 online friends, 1 who i have met in real life in scotland, that are true friends in one sense. geiko, my LJ friend, we went to school together, she was my only LJ friend, and then i went looking and found very nice and interesting people, like scooterbear and billijean and i added them, because i thought they were nice people. i didn’t think by adding someone who may or may not want it done, they can simply ask to be removed, now i kinda feel bad, because i forgot to ask 2 people, and it’s just me, but i am sorry for that, it probably won’t matter, but now im in a quandrey…. anyone for help

  • mithoviel

    June 25, 2001 at 10:50 pm

    Well said.

    Yes, I’m a fuckhead.

  • highlearn

    June 26, 2001 at 12:05 am

    I was going to reply
    “I blame Hydro_nots” or.. sascha, or something. Perhaps a smile, or a smirk, but I think that I’d be cheating myself of something if I did that. If I did that, I’d be proactively removing myself from having any chance at being a ‘friend’. I’m a poor judge of where people stand involving myself (hey, even prophets aren’t the best at that), but I’d like to think I was at least a vying for friendship.

    Yes, the term ‘friend’ in terms of the digital listing of journals we read is a misnomer. A virtual hug sucks compared to being in someones arms.

    Living in reality, I attempt to convey my meanings with my words, not hide. I may muddle the meanings occasionally, intentional or not; but I strive to convey who I am. Not everyone does that; I know as much from personal experience. As long as you’re honest with yourself, and know when you need to be honest with others(which is more often than not.. tough shit.) and you’ll do ok.

    And to lighten the mood, yes, and I are old drinking buddies.

  • cymru

    June 26, 2001 at 12:10 am

    excellent insight on journal keeping

    I especially like how you describe what you write in your journal (one-sided, subject to change, and so on). I’m new to online journal keeping and I’ve been raising an issue that you seem to be getting at — just who, exactly is my audience? It is a tough question, but the answer certainly isn’t “me.”

  • ex_oki86

    June 26, 2001 at 12:27 am

    I think I shall be making a small trip to Toronto come august if you like to get a hug from me.

    Hopefully I can… my budget has been getting tight of late.

  • sirreal13

    June 26, 2001 at 7:16 am

    Jenny, what you said should be rquired reading for every new subscriber to an on-line “community.”

    I just composed an e-mail responmse this AM to a co-worker on the south side of the building. I re-read it and thought “how will he interpret this?” and decided to delete the message and walk over and tell him what I was thinking, so there could not poossibly be any misinterpretation. We’ve had one-sided e-mail “arguments” because he thought I was accusing him of being ignorant, when all I was doing was passing on a pseudo-official interpretation from a credible source… As painful or awkward as real communication can be, it’s worth it…

    I hope to be able to spend some time with you and Cyn and Daruba and countless others real people in real time in real space and have a real discussion…

    and FNEU, encore! n’est-ce pas?

  • Anonymous

    June 26, 2001 at 2:14 pm

    What a great post. I bet it would make a nice article, if you wanted to whip it up….

  • zulko

    June 27, 2001 at 1:05 am

    fneu

    I think it’s less about actual friendship, and more about competetion for higher numbers, or just plain desire to read a certain person’s journal.
    I agree, it does get out of hand. I’ve seen wars waged and people falling in love, all over words that are designed to emulate emotion and never really express the truth.

  • ojdorson

    June 27, 2001 at 8:53 am

    *nods* (haha!)
    seriously, though… I’ve tried hard to keep online “friends to an absolute minimum. I’ve always thought it was just plain silly to have internet friends that you’d never actually met. When I meet someone neat over the internet… I always try to make plans to meet in life and hang out. People chat with me on AIM for like an hour and consider me a friend. Just last night, I asked someone what they meant by that. I barely know this girl, but I’m her friend and she misses talking to me! What sense does that make? Oh, and she lives about 20 miles from me and has no interest in getting together for coffee, movie, whatever (she’s an orthodox Jew and still lives at home – NO non-jewish friends allowed!). So, to me, that’s not a friend – that’s entertainment via AIM.

    Yes, I know my “friends” page is a little heavy… heavier now that you’ve been added. I use this to follow what’s going on with people that I find intelligent, creative, funny, etc. Usually, if they’re interesting enough, I’ll try to make plans for a mini-vacation to go to a new city and meet them (ANY excuse to travel!). Most people on my friends page, I’ve never even posted to their journal – ever!

    Now, I’ve added you and posted in yours. I thought you were neat, and I think WarpedRadio is realy cool. You’re obviously intelligent, etc., and have some kind of strength and flair (very unique).
    So, on my friends page you go!
    Are you my friend, no. But you could be someday. Who knows, right?
    “You’ve got moxie, kid – and spunk. I like spunk.”

  • particle_man

    September 26, 2001 at 7:47 pm

    Interesting post

    I generally agree with most of it. I don’t know what caused this post to be written and I won’t even try to guess. I just became a member of LiveJournal a few months ago. I’d been on Blogger earlier and like the features here much better.

    My journal here is so my family and RL (real life) friends where I’m from can keep updated on how I’m doing and the important things happening in my life. If others want to read it that’s fine with me. If they don’t that’s also fine. I knwo there’s a sense of community here at LiveJournal that I’m not yet a part of. That’s also fine with me because I have things to do in RL and if I had 50 or 75 people on my firends list there’s no way I’d have time to keep up with that real life.

    From another perspective I have to offer this though. I met my wife online. For 18 months we talked with each other on IRC. Me in Oregon and her in Perth Australia. I knew I wanted to marry her before ever meeting her in person. When we did finally meet we spent three weeks together before she had to go back to Australia. Before she left I asked her to marry me. 6 months later I flew to Australia and we got married three weeks after I got there. We’ve now been married three years and neither of us could be happier.

    Real life, loving relationships can be built with people you meet online. Nine other couples from that same irc channel are also married and still together. Some have been together for 6 years now. I know it’s rare but it does happen.

  • audiguy

    October 2, 2001 at 11:48 pm

    Very good and very thoughtout post..
    (hehe, the only thing that I didn’t like about it was the disclaimers on things that really should of been self evident, but I do understand why you put them in).

    I would NEVER, EVER add a REAL life friend to my lj friends list.. Never.. Its like I have completly seperated them.. But, that has a lot to do with the kind of person I am.. Its a lot easier for me to be open to people that are not part of my normal life.. I will meet some of them in real life which is really cool from the standpoint that I can be comfortable in talking to them in real life about everything.. In real life it would take me years to get comfortable enough with someone to be able to say things that I have told online people while in REAL life (not just online)..

    Its kinda funny that I am no longer able to hug a girl online after I met her in real life.. It added this extra meaning to it.. I wouldn’t be able to do it in real life and the thought of that has stopped me from hugging her in IRC..
    She still smooches me after we get done talking.. But then she did that in real life (on the cheek).

    Also, I do find that an online community does follow real life.. Sure it adds certain elements to it and it subtracts some.. But I have never experienced the kind of drama that other people experience online.. Why?? Because I don’t experience them in real life.. Everything is kept small.. My LJ friends list is really small.. My real life friends list is real small.. Sure there are some small dramas.. But none of the rumors, lies that I have heard other LJ people talk about.. It kind of reminds me of my sister that always talks about office gossip.. And then I go to work at a place with ZERO office gossip..

    Are a lot of LJ people depressed?? Sure, but I really don’t think any more then real life people.. I have a tendency (and yes this is bad) to avoid depressed/sick people), but I do not find myself avoiding reading journals of people that I do feel are depressed. Why? because my mind is able to resolve the notion that a person is being a little harsher then the situation really is or I come to understand the perspective that, that person is coming from..