THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
If only....
The same river a second time

Of friendship, trust and the internet

The internet - like life itself - is wonderful, dangerous and bound to end badly. The German language has a precise way of categorising friendships. Only a real (will be there at your funeral even if it rains) friend qualifies as a "freund." Others may be merely a "geschäftsfreund" or "sportfreund" (someone you do business or play sports with).

We certainly need a way in English to distinguish real friends from "blog friends," "Facebook friends," "LinkedIn" or "Second Life" friends. English-speakers have always been too casual about conferring the great honour of "friendship" on each other and in consequence often don't know who their real friends are. The confusion that causes and the time is wastes is tragic.

We can meet the likeminded far more readily in cyberspace than "meatspace", which is wonderful. It's particularly so if you happen to belong to an endangered minority, like libertarians or those who care about grammar! But there are many pitfalls along the virtual road.

Often it seems that people (especially shy people) get carried away with the unrestricted possibilities of online life, but real friendships need time to mature wherever they are formed. And cyberspace is a particularly dangerous place to form them. 80% of human communication is non-verbal. No matter how slick your use of smiley faces and internet acronyms, you are stuck with the other 20% online

Cyberspace is wonderful because you meet people whose paths would never have crossed yours in real life. You can get to know and exchange your thoughts with a much wider range of people than you would normally meet. Worryingly, you can also end up in the virtual company of people you find - too late - you would have crossed many a wide street to avoid.

I have misjudged many people in my life - to my cost and sometimes to theirs. I have so often misplaced my trust that it becomes difficult as I get older to keep trusting. Yet little of value can be achieved in this life alone. And nothing of value can be achieved with others without trust. So I keep trying and keep advising others - however difficult it must sometimes seem - to do the same.

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