Make it Write

In My Opinion:


On-line, off-line, real and otherwise

by Teen Editorial Board Member, Russell Huffman

September 1999

The Internet has created lots of new opportunities. E-businesses sprout up overnight like virtual weeds and web sites boast banner ads for everything from movies to soft drinks to beanie babies. Everyone seems to want to make money, but some of us just want to make friends. Those without much experience in chat rooms are quick to point out that relationships forged on-line can't be counted on. That the friends you meet there aren't "real." Well, Russ Hoffman, who has spent quite a lot of time on the Internet and made many lasting friends, has something to say about that!

It's a common stereotype that if you have friends on-line, there's something wrong with your social life in the "real" world. Well, sorry to disappoint, but lots of us manage to have friends on-line and off. After all, what's the point of "global communication" if the only thing you communicate with is a server on Wall Street that lets you play the stock market in your pajamas? How about a global chat community? How's that for world peace? Okay, I might be over dramatizing a little, and maybe chatting with people from New Zealand to Estonia won't create world peace, but it certainly couldn't hurt.

I'm not saying that there are no drawbacks to on-line friendships, of course there are! There are liars on the Internet just like there are in real life. But for every shyster, liar, and con-artist on-line, there is at least one other person communicating in deep and honest ways. Finding those people is what makes on-line friendships meaningful. How can you tell the difference? The next time you're in a chat room, watch the way people talk. Ask yourself if you think the people would talk that way in public. The differences in the way people communicate (both positive and negative) are interesting and show different sides of a person. Maybe the side people show in chat rooms is one you'd never see (or show yourself) out there in the "real world." Maybe it would be a better world if more people were able to show their "hidden" positive sides to others.

The next time you're in a chat room, watch how people talk.

Some people don't like meeting people on-line because they prefer knowing who they are talking to and what the person looks like. Me, I like not knowing. As a friend of mine said, "You can't see their facial expressions so you have to trust them or not trust them." I'll take my chances though. In fact, in some ways, not being able to see someone (or have them see you) can be a major advantage. Think about it this way:

When you meet a person, the first thing your mind does is classify them - their clothes, their hair, their looks, it all gets classified. And whether you realize it or not, you use that classification to determine how you're going to react to him/her. You wouldn't treat a gorgeous looking young person the same as a paunchy older business type, would you? Probably not. As much as I like to think of myself as unbiased, I know I still prejudge every person I see. don't get any of that visual information so you have to evaluate the person from their words.

On-line, however, you don't get any of that visual information so you have to evaluate the person from their words. You might end up having a deep, meaningful conversation with that older person, and ignoring the hottie, because, well... (s)he just doesn't have anything interesting to say. With that visual stuff out of the way, it is surprising, how quickly you getting to know another person's mind.

When asked if I am closer to online or off-line friends, the answer is obvious. I am closer to off-line friends, but some of those, I met originally on-line. As for my on-line friends, they are friends of a different kind.

So my advice is to go to select CHAT and try it out. Get to know some people on-line and see what it's like. Don't go diving in, getting deeply involved with someone you just met. Chat room friends are just like real friends. You don't tell them everything all at once. Take the time you need to get to know each other. It's a gradual thing. But worth it.

Get to know people on-line and see what it's like.

Write to Russ at: [email protected]


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