A few thoughts, inspired by this meme: If there is someone on your friends list who makes your world a better place just because they exist and who you would not have met (in real life or not) without the internet, then post this same sentence in your journal.
Personally, I'd say there are a number of people on my f-list who fit that description. Some of you I've even had the privilege of meeting in RL, and finding you just as delightful in person as you are in spirit.
A male person whom I love dearly is of the firm opinion that online relationships are illusory -- that you can't really relate to someone in a meaningful way just through writing. His conviction is that without gesture and tone of voice, without a physical presence in front of you, without a common task, hobby or occupation at which you can work side by side with that person and see how they act even when they aren't using words, you have only a superficial impression of the person you're relating to, and your friendship can never progress beyond vague acquaintance.
Well, that may be true for men -- or most men, anyway -- but I don't think it's equally true for women, for whom verbal communication is primary. Men may (as this male friend of mine claims) need a hockey game or a joint work assignment in order to get to know each other, but most women I know are content to make a pot of tea and a plate of scones and just talk.
So while the Internet may indeed make a very bad deck-building project, I''d say it makes a quite decent pot of tea... and my experience of meeting online friends in RL seems to bear that out.
In the eighteen years I've been talking to people online (yes, I am a net.dinosaur), I have yet to meet someone who was significantly different in the flesh from the way they presented themselves online. That's not to cast any doubt upon the real danger of people misrepresenting themselves for personal gain and/or to take advantage of others -- I know it does happen -- but in the particular message boards, FidoNet echoes, Usenet groups, fan forums, and LiveJournal threads where I've met and befriended people over the years, there really hasn't been much call for that kind of behaviour, and I've never run afoul of it myself.*
And on the whole, I've gained far more than I've lost by making friends online. Some of you I chat with on a near-daily basis: we've laughed together, cried together, prayed together, shared story ideas and bits of writing, and offered sympathy and/or advice as needed. I've received gifts of such generosity and thoughtfulness, some of them from people I'd only just met, that I was moved to tears. Little by little, and sometimes without even realizing I was doing it, I've established a network of contacts with professional writers and editors that has really helped and encouraged me in my writing career. And some of you have done me the honour of coming to visit me and stay in my home for a few days -- an experience that I have always enjoyed and would gladly repeat with any one of you.
So to all my online friends, I raise a cup of virtual tea and say, with all sincerity: to friendship.
-- * Admittedly, I have met a couple of people on line who were unpleasant and even dangerous in RL, but there was plenty of warning for that in the way they spoke and conducted themselves online. My mistake wasn't in thinking those people were different than they really were, it was believing I could help them with their problems and not get hurt. I think that I've learned better now.
On the negative side: it's been a week of cold and flu here in Casa RJA. My ordinarily energetic five-year-old was flat on his back for most of Monday and Wednesday, and I had to keep him home Thursday as well for fear of another relapse. My three-year-old has woken up in the middle of the night three days running to moan, "Mommy, I don't feel so good."
But the worst? The baby has it too. I really thought -- hoped -- he'd escape, but for the last two days his nose has been alternately stuffed up and running, plus he's developed a rasping chest cough that makes it hard for him to nurse. Saddest of all, his left eye has turned red, swollen, and goopy; and as of this morning the infection's spread to the right eye as well.
Oh, my old friend pink eye, how I don't love you. My only consolation is that the rest of us don't have it -- yet.