, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 209-219,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 27 May 2012

How shall i compare thee? Comparing the prudential value of actual virtual friendship


It has become commonplace to hold the view that virtual surrogates for the things that are good in life are inferior to their actual, authentic counterparts, including virtual education, virtual skill-demanding activities and virtual acts of creativity. Virtual friendship has also been argued to be inferior to traditional, embodied forms of friendship. Coupled with the view that virtual friendships threaten to replace actual ones, the conclusion is often made that we ought to concentrate our efforts on actual friendships rather than settle for virtual replacements. The purpose of this paper is to offer a balanced and empirically grounded analysis of the relative prudential value of actual and virtual friendship. That is, do actual and virtual friendships differ when it comes to enhancing our subjective well-being? In doing so, I will discuss a number of presuppositions that lie behind common criticisms of virtual friendship. This will include, among other considerations, their potential for replacing actual friendship, as well as the possibility for self-disclosure, trust, sharing and dynamic spread of happiness in virtual worlds. The purpose is not to arrive at a firm, normative conclusion, but rather to introduce a number of considerations that we should take into account in our individual deliberations over which role virtual friendships ought to have in our unique life situations.