You often hear that social networks are cold facsimiles of the real thing; that there are no real friendships in cyberspace. The reverse is true. It may be something peculiar to writers, but not necessarily. In my experience - whether you want it or not - who you are and who you’d like to be unavoidably comes through. Minds communicate with minds. Spirits with spirits. In real life attractive spirits sometimes remain undiscovered behind unattractive flesh.
I may never meet some of the friends I’ve made. In this respect the internet has replaced the Ouija Board or Planchette, and in this vein some of the friends I’ve made on the net have really died, and my grief has been as real as if I’d met them face to face.
It wasn’t always so
Computer screens were once black with virulent green or white text. I grew up in an age of Acorns, Winchesters, and very small screens. School Departments were encouraged – no – exhorted to make use of them. Lesson plans were meticulously drawn whereby, in theory, a class of thirty might profitably use a single computer with a 14 inch screen. The students weren’t fooled, but humoured us.
We went on training courses, each one only marginally better than the last…And then at last came the Internet.
We went to a training course at Caerleon. Our instructor, a man called Roy, fizzed with excitement as he popped between terminals and occasionally glanced at a blank screen behind him.
At last he was ready, but we weren’t. We had to be talked to, the concept explained. He enthused on how this made the world smaller, how it brought people together. He foresaw international cooperation, friendliness, talked of courtesy and internet etiquette. In the mean time we stared at the screen still blank, but promising great things.
And then Roy smiled. His jaw dropped an inch - like a snake poised to swallow a small mouse or rabbit. His lips extended in a show of teeth before the jaw ascended, the smile disappeared. He swivelled, pressing a key in the process and the screen came to life.
An elderly American smiled back at us. His was a normal smile. We were entranced. There were books behind him, a window allowing us glimpses of…American trees. And he was talking, his voice brisk like a dry Savannah cricket.
We wanted to say ‘hello’ back to him but wondered whether he would hear us.
“Hello, “The American waved
Two ‘hellos’ – more than enough for Roy. His jaw dropped as if ready to snack and the teeth came and went. He lowered the sound; talked again of the brotherhood of man. Behind him the American waved, his voice occasionally breaking through when he shouted:
‘Can you hear me?’
Roy was oblivious. His was the only voice worth listening to. The American conjured up for our convenience was nothing more than that, a convenience. It was my first experience of the less attractive side of what was to come. Roy was a user. He incarnated the blind egoism found everywhere on the net today – and in real life, too.
You make friends where you find them, in cyberspace or on the street. One is not necessarily better than the other.