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!

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** 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]

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