Can online friends be friends?

Dr. Vance Ricks took a swing at that question Nov. 1 as the speaker for Pi Gamma Mu and Phi Kappa Phi’s annual fall lecture. An associate professor of Guilford College, Greensboro, Ricks told a crowd of nearly 70 that friendship today uses computer-mediated communication to spend time togehter, not as a substitute for spending time together but as another way to spend time together without sharing the same geographical space. For instance, when Facebook users post comments including an announcement that a person’s day is going badly, it is an invitation for friends to ask about the problem and offer help. In other words, Facebook can be as valuable a way to maintain a friendship as face-to-face relationships although it is not the same. One of the problems of online sites is the stage managing of messages that are crafted and massaged for maximum effect. This can be a problem for a friend who may find it difficult to learn a person’s genuine character. It may be more a part of a kind of fun house mirror representation. Ricks is part of the North Carolina Humanities Council.

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