Why do people make friends online? Why do people sustain friendships online? Why do people value their online peers more highly than their “real life” friends, the ones they see on a daily basis?

Social networking is an unavoidable part of modern life. For my generation, it’s our oxygen. We spend hours indoors hunched over our laptops, headphones in, world out. We draw our curtains to prevent the glare of the sunshine on our screen. Going outside is overrated.

Recent statistics show that young people (aged 13-24) are spending an average of 31 hours online per week, and while this is a particularly negative view of our generation, it doesn’t seem at all surprising to me.

When I tell my parents I am going out to meet up with “a friend from Twitter”, I am met with disapproving and concerned looks. I explain to my friends I’m not texting a boy from our college, he’s actually a friend from Tumblr, and I can see them judging me. There may be a social stigma still attached to forming friendships or relationships online, but considering how technologically advanced we are nowadays, surely it’s only a matter of time before everyone has two circles of friends: online and offline.

“When I was younger, I was afraid of people online finding me in real life. Now, I’m afraid of people in real life finding me online.”

Unfortunately, there is a voice inside my head that cannot be silenced when I hear a friend talking about the amazing people they talk to every night on Skype, or I catch my sister tweeting someone from America… The voice wants to know: are your “real life”, offline friends not good enough company for you? Must you spend more time talking to people you’ve never met and may never meet than you do with the people who live right down the road? And when you’re feeling down, would you seek advice and comfort from your Twitter/Tumblr followers rather than ringing someone who can actually come over, talk it out in person and hug you better?

As an avid blogger, I understand the desire (often mistaken for a need) to pour all of one’s thoughts and feelings out and into cyberspace. I also understand just how magical it feels to have someone, even if it’s a complete stranger on the other side of the world, read what you have to say – and more importantly, find themselves able to relate to it. Whether it’s a deep and personal blog post, a plea for two characters in your favourite TV show to fall in love and get married, or a particular joke you find hilarious… Knowing that someone out there feels the same way can make all the difference.
We can be different people online; we can be our real true selves, the people we’re afraid to introduce to the real world… Or create someone totally new who we’ve always wanted to be. The choice is ours.

I do have one piece of advice for you online dwellers, though: don’t make your entire friend base online. Just remember who will be there for you when the internet crashes…