Can An Internet Friend Be A True Companion?

As we spend more time online, we are bound to make friends there. But can an Internet friend be as good a friend — or even better — as one you meet in person?

In some ways, it makes sense that you could find a connection with someone online. After all, without geography limiting the people you can interact with, you are bound to meet people that share your interests — like an obscure band, a niche artist, or a cult movie — that you might not meet otherwise.

In addition, we have a multitude of ways to communicate over long distances. Everything from hand-written letters to phone calls, from text messages to video conferencing. As a result, if the motivation to stay in touch with someone exists, there are several different ways to do it.


Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable Podcast, where Lee and Michael discuss this question: ‘How can we encourage debate?’ We discuss another question as well, ‘What is the value of inefficiency?’


However, each one of us has a physical presence. We evolved to be attuned to the physical presence of someone else. This might include unspoken communication like body language, pheromones, and body heat. There is something about the touch of another human being that produces a chemical reaction inside your body. And it is not just limited to intimacy.

So what do you think? Can a friendly relationship between two people be sustained solely through e-mail messages, Zoom calls, and social media posts? Or is a true, deep, thoughtful friendship dependent on physical proximity? Can an Internet friend be a true companion?

Related questions: What makes a friendship? What do you get out of social media? How can we engage in meaningful conversation? What makes a community?

3 thoughts on “Can An Internet Friend Be A True Companion?”

  1. Yes.

    I almost think I should stop there as the answer seems obvious to me.

    I have several internet friendships where the connection is extremely meaningful. In fact, I think some exchanges over the internet can foster deeper relationships. For instance, if most of your interactions come through written correspondence, I’d compare that to friendships started and maintained via letter-writing. There’s something about the written word that, if executed carefully, is more nuanced than the banter friends exchange over an activity they share in physical proximity.

    Mind you, if given the opportunity to meet a friend where the companionship started over the internet, you bet I’d want to do that. But that’s because the written connection forged such a strong friendship.

    I fear that in naming an example, I may offend others I consider much-valued friends. But because of the extreme geographical-distance, I’ll choose the friendship I’ve forged with Laila Noort, who lives in Belgium, as a prime example of a significant friendship formed via written exchanges, where when we finally got the chance to meet in person, it felt the same as the type of deep friendship forged through in-person contact. Immediately upon meeting Laila and her spouse, Rogier, we began and sustained a conversation that lasted for hours. Via our internet friendship, Laila and I have been able to share our “love green things” (as she notes on her Facebook profile), help each other through difficult circumstances, share concerns we have about society in general, and express various joys we have in life. Lee and I — the Intellectual Roundtable team — have even used Laila’s skill at podcasting to ponder if we want to make it a long-term addition to our question-asking blog. I can’t wait to meet up with Laila in person again. But if that never happens, I won’t feel our friendship will be diminished.

    Yes. Yes, internet friends can be true companions.

    1. Aw Michael, that is so sweet! I also believe you can forge real meaningful relationships through the internet. We chatted so many times that we already knew each other well before we even got to meet and that made the first time seeing each other in person less awkward and more familiar.

  2. I feel like a friend that you make over social media, or otherwise through the computer, can be just as good a friend as one made in real life. However, I also think it is *much harder* to maintain that friendship.

    A lot of the subtle aspects of friendship are made easier with low physical distance and in-person meetings, more than most people may realize at first. A lack of these can be overcome, but not without a great deal of effort.

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