Over the years I have had a lot of experience with maintaining friendships online rather than in the real world. This experience came from the fact that it is so much easier for me to communicate and hang out with my friends online due to difficulty getting into friend’s houses and initiating relationships. I do not think that my difficulty at offline friendships was only due to my disability and the fact that I am in a wheelchair, though. Shyness has always been an issue that I had to deal with, and somewhat still deal with to this day. I let my disability be my excuse to not join in on a conversation or communicate with my peers. For example, in classes at high school and middle school I needed someone to help me and I had to use special desks and equipment in order to take notes and tests. The simple fact that my desk was usually separate from the rest of the class made me not want to communicate as much. When one goes online, on websites such as Facebook or through email, those barriers and excuses of the offline world mostly disappear. So yes, I do think that friendship is possible online because it has been how I have initiated and maintained many of my friendships over the years.
(image from http://lotterina.blogspot.com/)
I also agree with Baym and his argument to always remember both the pros and the cons of online networks and communities. A few years ago I had joined a community of people on Facebook who had banded together to help a singer named Veronica stand up against bullying and promote her music and beliefs. The group had about 200 or so members and even had a group/page on Facebook where anyone can send them a message and someone would respond to it right away with advice. For about a month or so I was one of the admins who made sure to reply to any messages we received. Most of the messages were people talking about being bullied and not knowing what to do or how to cope with it; these people just wanted to have someone to listen to them and offer their opinions and advice on the situation.
(image from http://www.marketingzen.com/)
At first I enjoyed being able to help people out and giving them optimistic words of advice, but then I started to notice that most of the other admins were all for promoting the music, and not for the anti-bullying campaign. Sure, Veronica’s music was decent, but I thought that the music was only a part of the campaign against bullying; I thought that helping others was more important than becoming rich and famous by selling albums and music on iTunes. That was why I decided to stop being an admin and I left the group entirely. I had seen the pros of the social support and helping others, which seemed to mask the cons of the music industry and making money off of people’s difficulties. For any future groups or online communities I decide to join I will make sure the group’s goals match the group’s actions, or perhaps I will create a group and movement of my own.