Shelly Kramer inspired me with this Twitter message about the joy of translating her online friendships to offline encounters:
IRL is shorthand for “in real life.”
My response: Big whoop.
I mean, yeah, it’s nice and all and I appreciate the concept as I have formed many friendships and business partnerships as the direct result of online camaraderie, but in the spirit of my elementary school peers who wrote to “pen pals” in another country and felt ecstatic the moment they met in person, is Shelly’s epiphany truly new?
To the bigger issue, shouldn’t we be concerned about social ills of focusing one’s friendships online? When a British study earlier this year interviewed 16,000 youths between 14 and 21 about their use of MySpace, would you be surprised that 36% felt more comfortable talking to friends online than face to face? How is Twitter helping? I’m all for technological improvements and taking advantage of Generation Y’s persistence of using the internet, but to what cost?
Don’t get me wrong. I agree with the importance of online friendships when times are tough, as Tara Hunt confides:
I’ve known more than one social network addict that has received ample support, including late night phonecalls, offers of dinners, shoulders to cry on and generally helpful feedback when feeling blue, angry or otherwise down in the dumps.
If I’m a singer, she’s preaching to the choir.
Let’s look at the bigger picture.
If people are searching for online friends on Google, is it any wonder that social networking services are seeing exponential growth–or that exclamations like Shelly’s are commonplace? I just wonder at what cost.