Real friends: how the Internet can foster friendship
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Dean Cocking and Steve Matthews’ article “Unreal Friends” (Ethics and Information Technology, 2000) argues that the formation of purely mediated friendships via the Internet is impossible. I critique their argument and contend that mediated contexts, including the Internet, can actually promote exceptionally strong friendships according to the very conceptual criteria utilized by Cocking and Matthews. I first argue that offline relationships can be constrictive and insincere, distorting important indicators and dynamics in the formation of close friends. The distance of mediated friendships mitigates this problem by promoting the courage to be candid. Next, I argue that the offline world of largely oral exchanges is often too shallow and hasty to promote deep bonds. The deliberateness of written correspondence acts as a weight to submerge friendships to greater depths and as a brake to enhance attentiveness to and precision about one’s own and one’s friend’s character. Nonetheless, close friendships may fail to develop on the Internet. Insofar as this failure occurs, however, it would be for reasons other than those identified by Cocking and Matthews.
Keywordscomputer-mediated communication cyberspace friendship Internet online relationships
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