Yes, they are, because, with technology coming to the forefront, that is the nature of the age we are gradually moving into and there are a few key reasons for this.
First, virtual relationships lend themselves easily to being controlled much better than real life ones. It is far easier and less traumatic to deal with someone when they are more detached because there are fewer expectations to be fulfilled and the costs are dramatically reduced. There won't be much heartache in maintaining the friendships, even if things go pear-shaped. There will always be other friends to fill the gaps.
Second, as online friends are low in maintenance, it is easier to be popular because one can amass loads of friends at little cost to one's time or resources. In real life, it would have taken much trouble and effort to have as many friends and it would have been near impossible to be a friend to all in the truest sense. It would take too much time and effort.
Third, virtual relationships widen the pool of friends available, enhance the quality of experience by dealing with people on a global level and expose one to different experiences that one would certainly not have had with real life friends. Opportunities like this would be very limited in the real world, or would take ages to develop, and so they make virtual friendships far more appealing. For example, on MySpace my friend, Eolie, in France is a wonderful painter. Not only am I able to see her paintings being displayed on her site, and to keep up to date with her canvasses, but she made me a present of one through MySpace, which proudly adorns my site too, for me being ‘a good friend’ to her, she says. I would not have had that opportunity to connect with someone French in my locality in such an amazing and educational way. We also exchange comments in French which helps my schoolgirl French to be developed even more.
More time to connect with others Fourth, for people who are older, and would have more likely been lonely and isolated, it represents a chance to meet people of their own age group and to maintain friendships that lift them out of their small world and into something much larger at this late stage of their lives. This is just right for them because they are likely to have more time on their hands and want to have that feeling of value and significance. Often, many older people feel alone and unwanted and friends sites are a blessing to help them make friends with all age groups and to feel included in the process.
Fifth, some of the more creative people can be anything they wish to be, like pretending to be celebrities, or having fan sites devoted to people they admire and yearn to be. In these cases, virtual relationships lend themselves to any fantasy which others can share, like the guy who pretended he was a ship's captain and all his friends played different roles on his ship. Everyone joined in the fun of role playing. However, this aspect can be very harmful if the person is being truly dishonest about him/herself to an unsuspecting admirer.
Finally, virtual relationships are, quite simply, much more enjoyable than real life ones because people tend to be more appreciative of each other, more protective and more inclined to be genuinely approachable. They are like a vast community of like-minded souls, and with little of the emotional hassle likely in real life relationships, hence the experience is likely to be more enhancing and satisfying. Of course, there is always the chance of turning some of those virtual relationships into real life ones, either through dating or other events, which certainly gives the best of both worlds in the end.
Yes, there are a few who could become addicted, especially when that is all they have and it makes them feel more secure and comfortable. But such is life, which always has a good side and a downside in everything in it. We can never make life perfect because that is not its nature. We have to accept the rough with the smooth. As long as the vast majority of people are enjoying both worlds and feeling better for it, long live MySpace and Facebook, I say, because life is short enough as it is not to make the most of it.
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ELAINE SIHERA (http://www.myspace.com/elaineone ) is an expert author, public speaker, media contributor and lifestyle columnist. Confidential advice on personal/relationship issues is available on the quiz site. The first Black graduate of the OU and a post-graduate of Cambridge University. Elaine is a Personal Empowerment, Relationships and Diversity Consultant. Author of: 10 Easy Steps to Growing Older Disgracefully; 10 Easy Steps to Finding Your Ideal Soulmate!; Money, Sex & Compromise and Managing the Diversity Maze, among others (available on http://www.amazon.co.uk as well as her personal website). Also the founder of the British Diversity Awards and the Windrush Men and Women of the Year Achievement Awards. She describes herself as, “Fit, Fabulous and Ready to Fly!"