It's been almost two years since I ran this blog and I want to run it again to see what the opinion is now; are online friends real friends? As social media and the like increase will more people accept that online friends are real, or is this just fantasy? The post below is originally from 2012 hence why the time references are there, but the core concept remains the same...
One of the most frequently asked questions I get at presentations is this, "But, are you not lonely staying home on the weekends? Are you happy being alone?" Each person who asks this always seems concerned on whether or not their child is happy or feels isolated. Most of the times when I give my answer to them they understand a bit more so today I'll tell you what I tell them.
First, let me say I had a perfect weekend. I didn't leave the house and spent the weekend engrossed in either playing games, watching racing on television, or racing on iRacing. While I was technically "alone" for most of these events I wasn't as I spent most of the time talking to people over Xbox Live. I'd say over half the time when parents ask me if I'm happy and I explain that I have friends from all over they say, "Well, yeah, my son has that too, but is that enough? Are you happy?"
Am I happy? Friday afternoon I was at a red light and beside me was a car full of people around the age of 20 bobbing their heads to music and appearing to have a grand o' time. At that point in time my heart sank as I have never had anything like that. There I was, in my car, and I felt alone and isolated from the world. Later that evening however Rob and Travis came onto the Xbox and we had a great night of playing hockey on NHL 13.
I always seem to get a mystified look when I explain this new age way of socializing because for most parents friends were a person that usually came over to visit. The internet has opened the doors for the ways we can socialize and for me it is easier to establish a friendship over the Xbox. Why? First, it's easier to find people that have the same interests. That means if, as in my case racing, one likes racing and they're playing a racing game chances are most people in that community of gamers knows about cars and racing. This creates a common ground. Secondly, and I won't elaborate on this post, the physical presence of a person has been taken out of the equation so there is no eye contact and no worrying about trying to analyze the facial expressions.
Now I do have to say this; yes, I am perfectly content/happy with this social life I have. For others though this environment can become too safe of a place. The research and opinions always seem to be different on if socializing this way is a good thing in the long run (I think it is, in moderation) and then how much is too much? For some it seems impossible to describe how talking to someone not in the same room is enjoyable at all and this is one of the hurdles some parents face; the way they had friends, in their mind, is the only way to have friends. I've heard so many times, "friends on the internet aren't friends at all." Clearly the definition of friendship is changing and for many of us on the autism spectrum our "friends" aren't on the same street as us, or perhaps state, or for me in the same country as I am. Does this lessen the fact that our conversations have meaning? Does this lessen the fact that, just because we don't go to a concert or a movie, a friendship is there? I cringe each time I hear, "online friends aren't real friends" because they are real. It's these relationships that kept me going all those dark years I had as it was my only social outlet. For others in the boat I was in it's their only one as well and I've heard parents say, "Well, we're thinking of taking it away because those people aren't real and my child just needs to get out there and make real friends." I will agree that there should be a mix, but at the same time if conversing with friends online is one's only social outlet then is it right to take this away? I will say this past weekend was amazing and if asked if I was happy then without question I would have to say, "most certainly!"