Putting the ‘friend’ into cyber friendships

On her blog a few years ago, author Jody Hedlund questioned if our modern cyber world is distorting the meaning of the word ‘friend’. She asked, “How would you define a true friend and can you find that kind of friendship in the cyber world?” I’ve often thought about that question but never really come up with a definitive answer.

“What constitutes a friend in the truest sense of the word? We all value different qualities in our friends. but certainly we can all agree that a friendship must involve a genuine relationship. My pocket Webster defines friend as: close companion. More specifically as writers, we need genuine friends who can encourage and challenge us in our writing journey and we can do the same for them. Do Facebook friends fit that definition? Are they close companions or are they another “list” of people to help us in our quest for publication? For that matter, do any cyber friends live up to that definition?” [Jody Hedlund]

::shifting gears here::

On Friday, June 6, 2008 Joylene Butler published her first blog post. At least, it was the first one that I know about. She had sold five copies of her first novel and was moving to the next step: blogging to promote it and become more visible.

I didn’t know her then, nor had I found her blog when I began my own three weeks later with an initial post on June 28, 2008. My fiction wasn’t published yet so I had nothing to promote, but I was following the trend to be prepared by developing an online presence in the writing community.

There were no comments on my first post, just as there weren’t any on Joylene’s. We were newcomers in cyberspace.

CG&JBI don’t recall how I found her blog. Something in the mysterious realm of cyberspace drew us together. There was a post that November about eagles ‘fishing’ among the ducks on her lake that caught my attention and prompted me to respond with a comment about the goose who nested atop a beaver house in our marsh. Later in November she left a comment on my blog, and as our exchanges continued we discovered we had a lot in common.

When her second novel was being released I interviewed her on my blog. At some point she read and critiqued a story for me. Mostly, though, we’ve just played the role of encourager for each other. She has her own long-standing circle of writer friends and I’m involved in a writing group of my own.

We interact online regularly but we’ve met only once. She lives about 900 kilometres from me, but we managed to arrange a rendezvous when she came south for one of her book signings and I was visiting with family in a nearby city. When she answered the door that day I felt I was being greeted by an old friend.

::returning to the original question::

Friend? One who can encourage and challenge? Hmmm.

JB2Joylene and her husband went to Mexico on November 1st and are renting a casa for the winter at Los Arroyos Verdes in beautiful Bucerias. It’s a place that obviously agrees with her. But two weeks ago she posted about how she had fully intended to set up a strict writing schedule and finish a WIP while there, but so far hasn’t managed to write much at all. You can read the post here, but she concludes, “It’s disheartening to realize I’ve turned into one of those well-meaning persons who can’t get anything done past getting her nose burned.”

Dozens of people have left encouraging comments for her that range from, “I don’t blame you for being distracted. I’m sure you’ll settle back into writing soon,” to “Enjoy yourself and don’t worry too much about the productivity side of things,” and “Keep the faith. You will get there.”

It’s comforting to receive this kind of response, but I’m starting to wonder if any of us were being true friends in offering those consoling virtual pats on the shoulder. Maybe we should have been saying more challenging things like, “It looks gorgeous there. Take a day or two or three every week to soak it all up, but be sure to honour your desire to use a portion of the time for finishing that manuscript (or starting another if that’s the direction you’re led). If you don’t, after six months away you’re going to be cross with yourself when you get home.”

What do you expect from your cyber relationships? How would you want a friend to react when you were avoiding the very thing you normally loved to do — the writing that you promised yourself (and all of us!**) you were going to do during your several months of free time?

If I actually said that to Joylene, would I be a true friend, or just a nag?

Joylene writes suspense thrillers … has two published, with two more in the works, and has a story in a recently published collaborative steampunk anthology.

After reading this she’ll probably write me into her next story and kill me off!



** I will gain momentum soon and begin a routine of writing and blogging and whatever else I promised myself I’d do while here. The right schedule will arise in short order. In fairness, my internet connection has been terrible and I’ve had to stifle my impatience. Which also means I’ve had no excuse for not writing. That will change. I pledge to finish my current WIP, Shattered and to smooth out any clinks in my Vietnam political thriller, Kiss of the Assassin.” [Joylene Butler, Blog post: November 17, 2014]

~  ~  ~


Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

11 thoughts on “Putting the ‘friend’ into cyber friendships

  1. Carol,
    I have become so lazy! I still read, and love your blog. However, I have let my life become too busy…..to slow down and respond. I had to respond to this one though. Cyber friends! That explains you and Joylene! I LOVE both of you, and your writing has encouraged me since I first “met” you in 2008!
    I am so thankful for the internet…..because if it wasn’t for that, I would not know and love my precious Canadian friends. One day, I pray that God will arrange for the three of us to meet this side of heaven.
    Love and prayers,

    1. Oh, it’s SO good to hear from you today, Katt! I just read your e-mail and am stunned at how busy your life really is. While there are risks in opening our lives to the internet, it’s also true that without it we would miss some of the relationships that have become so precious to us…like ours. 🙂

  2. Holy duck poop, Carol! I adore you. I am writing, sort of. Well, I’m working on the Vietnam thriller. I remember my first encounter. I went to the BC Fed of Writers page and saw your name and your link and I stopped by. I thought, wow, a girl I can relate to. Thank you. I appreciate your challenge more than I can say.

    1. Ha! I figured if drew more attention to your admission you’d either kill me or be embarrassed enough to do something about it. I’m glad you’re writing, although I’m not sure the “sort of” is the commitment we’re looking for here.

  3. Carol, I consider you a friend. Perhaps not as close as Sally, whom I’ve known since I was in first grade, but a friend none-the-less. I read your blog regularly, but don’t always comment because of time constraints.

    I’m so grateful for your introducing me to your Aunt Norma. I’d be so much the poorer had I never known who she was, or listened to her reminiscences, or seen her beautiful art. I’m sad that I never got to hug her in person, but my life is so much richer for having met her.

    If I asked you a question, I know you’d give me the truth as you see it. I can rely on your integrity. Yes, you are a friend. And fair warning, if you’re ever in hug range, just brace yourself. 🙂

    1. We’ve known each other for quite a while, haven’t we Judith? I remember those days of working your way towards publication with “As Grandma Says”, and I recall with gratitude your kind attention to my aunt’s blog posts. Hugging range of you sounds like a good place to be.

  4. Well, that’s the beauty of having multiple readers and getting comments from different perspectives. The truth is that when someone’s not writing, it may be because they need a break, or it may be because their confidence is down and they need a boost, or it may be they’re procrastinating and need a nudge. From the outside, we can’t know what the person needs, but if we offer our suggestions, it may be that one of them will resonate with the writer in question.

    1. Good points, Jenn. We can’t always know what it is that’s standing in the way of someone else’s writing ambitions. There are times when encouraging words are what’s needed, and other times when being helpful will take a kick in the butt. Hopefully we’re observant enough to know which is the case. 🙂

  5. Interesting question. I don’t know what I expect from offline friends let alone online friends. Maybe just being there. Sometimes encouragement or challenging comes across as nagging or pushing and being pushed makes me feel as if I’m being pushed away. I also don’t feel as if I have the right to presume to know what another person needs. And yet it is nice when people tell me they hope I write again. So what am I saying? Haven’t a clue.

    But how cool that you and Joylene met. I’m jealous! And Joylene, if you’re reading this, you look lovely!

  6. I do know that online friendships are as true as offline friendships. The connections we make can be very strong as long as the friends are real to each other. Most facebook “friends” are simply trying to promote their books, but I have made friends there as well as via my blog.

    By the way, I’m responding via phone. I’m still trying to get together with the computer technician.

    1. You have what it takes…persistence and patience. Then again, you may not be feeling very patient, but when your options are limited there’s not a lot you can do, right?

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