Friendship In A Digital Age



On Christmas Day in 2011, 42 year old Simone Back posted this message to her 1,082 Facebook ‘friends’.

Took all my pills be dead soon bye bye everyone.

The police knocked the door down the next day and found her body. She’d killed herself.

Nobody went to help her, despite some of them living within walking distance of her house. There were some who were desperately trying to get her details but unfortunately were out of town.

As if this isn’t bad enough, while she lay dying, some of her so called ‘friends’ were taunting her.

This person replied,

She ODs all the time and she lies.

It makes me feel incredibly sad. The lady was in mental distress and was reaching out for help. Where was the compassion? Where were all her so called friends?

Can online friendships be real friendships?

Despite the heartbreaking opening story, I think so.

I’ve made some really lovely online friends who I genuinely care about. I might not have have the pleasure of meeting them in person yet but they are part of my life and they matter to me.

There was no such thing as social media when I was a kid. We had pen friends and it was exciting waiting for a letter to come through the post. I had a French penfriend and remember that she had beautiful curvy handwriting and used little hearts instead of dots above her i’s. I remember that I tried to write like her for a while but no matter how hard I tried, my writing still looked like a spider had rolled in ink and break-danced across the page.

Like most people of my generation, I have adopted social media and found it to be a lifeline..

Even my Ma went online! She was absolutely delighted when she realised that she could bollock me via MSN. I’d jump a mile every time the little box pinged up saying, “I know you’re there, Madam!!”

Being the parent of an autistic child in a mainstream school can be socially isolating. I am the mother of ‘that child’. I am a pariah – a social outcast.

Or this was the case until recently when I found a fellow autism mum at school. We’re now good friends. Hurrah!

And just this week another mum came up to me at school and asked if I was S’ mummy. My heart sank and I thought, “Shit…what’s he done now?” but she surprised me by asking if we wanted to go on a play date! I picked my jaw up off the floor and thanked her. Maybe my pariah days are over?

It’s lovely to be able to go to somebody’s house, sit with a cuppa and have a chat, safe in the knowledge that my little boy can be himself. Being able to talk to someone who ‘gets it’ is wonderful. I get hugs, too.

But in general, me and the boy are given a wide birth. He might be oblivious to the judgmental stares but I’m not. Sometimes it gets to me and that’s where the online support becomes invaluable.

Added to that, oh joy of joys, I’m agoraphobic!

I struggle in crowded areas and can’t stand where all the parents congregate without hyperventilating and touching my house keys umpteen times. After 44 years I’m used to being me. I’m probably labelled as shy (or weird) by the yummy mummy’s club but it’s not shyness and I don’t really give a shiny shite what they think anyway. Eff the lot of em, I say!  It does isolate you though because you try and avoid those situations which make the old circuits spark.

My little man displays challenging behaviour and it is mentally exhausting. but whenever I’ve really needed to ‘talk’ to someone, without fail, there’s always been somebody there. It makes the difference between coping and crying myself into a coma.

We all need friends. We all need to communicate with others. We are a social species. Even the most introverted of us needs a friend. We need to feel loved, appreciated – needed.

People with friends (and I mean friends, not just a trillion Facebook ‘friends’) live longer and are happier. Lonely people are more likely to die younger. Now there’s a sobering thought…

When my mother died, there were a couple of special ladies who were there for me. I’d never met them but they got me through one of the worst times in my life. One of those ladies also has an autistic son and she was there for me from the very beginning of our autism journey. I am indebted to her. She’s a lovely person.

The posse of online autism parents support each other and that support means so much. We are a band of mothers fighting for our special children. If one of us is having the day from hell, the others step up and offer words of comfort. It really helps.

Social media is an eclectic mix of personalities. It gives the narcissists a platform on which to inflict their relentless selfies on the world and puts like minded people in touch. It allows the socially awkward to be themselves without the obstacles which hinder them in ‘real life’. The downside to social networking is that it allows for anonymity and while that it a good thing for those who have a genuine reason for wanting to remain unknown, it unfortunately leaves the door open for abuse.

My life is enriched by a few special friends and they know who they are. They make me smile most every day and are proof that online friendships can be a real friendships. I would never ignore their cry for help and I hope they would never ignore mine.

Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…. ~ C S Lewis





30 thoughts on “Friendship In A Digital Age

  1. A very hearfelt and true blog by you Tracy……..ALL I CAN SAY TODAY IS ” I LOVE YOU”. Yes, we have never met but you know more about me than some of my *real* friends. You have always been there for me and I hope you feel the same way about me to you.
    Love you one more than you can ever say…….xxxxx

  2. A lovely sincere blog Tracy….I have told you things that I haven’t told my best friend cos my youngest didn’t want anyone to know.You helped me through my darkests times as a mum cos telling you online didn’t seem like a betrayal of her trust thank you my lovely online friend love you xxx franca

  3. Another lovely touching and thought-provoking blog from a dear online friend – one who remains in my thoughts and in my heart.
    Big HUGS and much love across the airways from me to you. xxxxx

  4. Tonight my son ( you know the one T) unexpectedly made me a sausage and egg muffin with a cup of tea. Last week he brought me a meal with his own money, The same son has brought me a lot of heartache and lots of ‘stares’ too from strangers over some of his behaviours. Right now, things are looking good but my dear T, thank you for being loving through many of my pains.and I love you to bits xxx

    • It makes me so happy to read this…happy and hopeful because I suspect there will be some really tough times in the future for us but this shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a privilege to call you ‘friend’. Love you too xXx

  5. This is such a touching post, not least for me as you are one of the people I’ve never met but hold dearest in my heart. You just “get” it, and that is a very valuable gift in a friend.

    I’m on a chat forum where I made some good friends, and I have been lucky enough to meet a few of them IRL. They are just as wonderful in person. Can’t wait to grab a hug and a squeeze of some of my twitter peeps one day ❤

  6. Love this. Making online friends after we moved to the US saved me. And they are still my life line, to be honest. I may be a bit rubbish at twitter, but I’m always there for a chat; and I know that I could ask the same of others. Our digital friends are just as important as our real life ones, if not more so on some days. Thank you so much for sharing with #ThePrompt x

  7. I think all types of friendship are valuable, online and off. And while your best friends are there for you no matter what, I love having different groups that I can chat about different things with, whether that be parenting, or writing, or reminiscing. I wonder if the sad situation you mentioned at the beginning was the ‘bystander effect’ where people don’t go to help because others aren’t going to help – it’s one of those weird psychological phenomenons that seems to be very powerful. Great post and I think you’re right that true friends can be anywhere.

  8. You’re right, social media gives you the opportunity to meet like minded people. Whereas the work place and the school gates can often leave you feeling an outsider. There are some people I know in real life who I chat better to on social media than in the real world because face to face I find small talk difficult and I’m a quiet person. When it comes to typing I can go on and on! Good post.

    • I can definitely relate to that, as I’ve said, not through shyness (shyness can be overcome) but through something that’s biological. It’s how I’m wired and maybe having an autistic son answers shoves a few pieces of the puzzle into place.
      Thank you X

  9. It’s very true that social media can make you feel normal. I’ve always been of the opinion that it’s bizarre how people just have digital friends for the sake of friends figures on platforms like Facebook. Social media can make you feel less isolated, it camps make you into the chatty person you’re not in real life. It can also mean bullying for so many people, no matter what their age. Truthfully, I dread the day our daughter starts asking about social media. It’s a fantastic tool but its also scarey as hell! #theprompt

    • Me too, Carol. My other sons were older when social media came about but I am concerned about my son who is autistic and vulnerable. I’ll be keeping a close eye on things. It’s a double edged sword for sure. X

  10. Such an honest and moving post. I love social media and the online world for introducing me to people that I may never have got to know otherwise and I have built some wonderful friendships through online contact. I think it really is great for finding people who have the same concerns as you – for you as a parent of a child with autism and for me as a parent of a child with a heart defect. It helps knowing that other people share your concerns and struggles. And sometimes it is so much easier to be open from behind a computer screen than it is in real life. Such a shame though that it can be a double-edged sword – your opening story is so very sad and is a good reminder to be aware of the person behind the online persona too. #theprompt

    • Thanks Louise,
      I have come across many people who create an online persona that is far removed from who they actually are. ie people who are hateful to others but excuse their behaviour by saying it’s a persona and really, they are lovely in ‘real life’. I don’t get it. Why would you choose to be nasty if you’re a “nice person”?
      I try to be myself. The only difference is my words don’t get jumbled in translation as they do when I’m actually talking to people. My mind doesn’t go blank. I can communicate with loads of people at the same time and it be OK. In life, I can’t walk into a room full of people without feeling ill. And it’s not for the want of trying..
      My online presence may be a little more ‘polished’ than in RL but it’s still me. I am this daft. I am this emotional. I really am a menopausal mess lol It’s just easier to be myself without the anxiety problems making it difficult. X

  11. A touching post. The opening story is so sad – I remember reading about it at the time and wondered how people could be so awful to others. I have made so many wonderful online friends, like you, who mean the world to me – just as much as my ‘real life’ friends. It’s so important to have people who ‘get’ you and who have shared experiences – the beauty of social media is it can help connect people who otherwise may never meet. #ThePrompt xxx

  12. It’s very sad about that lady. I understand how social media can be a forum for cruelty and bullying and it worries me for when my own children want to start using it. It is not as though we know all about how to handle it from experience because we never used it when we were young and so have no benchmark. It’s still a learning curve for me, but my favourite is the blogging community for meeting like minded, lovely people. I agree that you really get to know these people and can think of them as friends because they literally wear their hearts on their sleeves through their writing. This post is a perfect example of that.

    • So true, Nicola.
      I definitely wear my heart on my sleeve, I don’t see the point in being any other way. My blog has been my therapy in dealing with the loss of my mum and my son’s autism diagnosis. It’s given me a platform on which to make fun of myself with my menopause. It’s been invaluable and as much as I fantasise about simplicity and the “good old days” – I can’t imagine life without social media now.

  13. I hadn’t heard the story at the top. How very sad that no one was there for her.

    You are so right though, online friends can be ‘real’ friends. I’m sorry that you find the school playground such an unwelcoming place. I am a little introverted and don’t make friends easily, I find the playground is often full of women who have known each other a long time and shun anyone who isn’t ‘like them’. It’s almost like High School again!

    I love my online friends, they mean a lot to me and I know they’d be there for me if I needed them. Even if they live thousands of miles away! Love this post Tracy. Brilliant.

    Morgan x

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