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Some Of My Best Friends Are. . .

September 18, 2017

This is not a post about race. Although, my best friend is black. We’ve been friends for nearly 20 years. He won’t read this. Despite being an IT professional with an impressive resume, including a decade at Microsoft where we met, he doesn’t have an online presence. No Facebook. No Twitter. He barely has email.

But, this post isn’t about him. The people this post is about are online.

I have a houseful of teenagers. They are fearless. They are indestructable and they are way smarter than you and me. At least they are if you ask them. I was talking with a friend about my home security system. I have a hardware based firewall system and a software based filter.

It’s not designed to stop my kids from getting to inappropriate content. Oh, I suppose I could continue to play whack-a-mole with their devices and the proxy servers they use to bypass my filters. It’s not worth it. They have cell phones with a data plan. There are numerous locations within a mile of my house that have “free” wifi.

No, my job is to help the kids who want to avoid the inappropriate content. If they don’t want to see sexual content, it’s not going to be randomly jumping into their browser while they are doing research for a school report. My kids still get frustrated with the limits. For example I block Snapchat. Most of them have, or at least had, Snapchat accounts.

Why won’t you unblock Snapchat?

Snapchat is one of the top ten revenue sites for porn.

But, WE won’t use it that way.

I would hope not! I’m not filtering to stop you from sharing. I’m blocking the other people.

They think that is a stupid idea. I’m guessing they will eventually figure out the reason. Hopefully it will be before someone takes advantage of them. Teaching them to navigate the internet successfully is an important skill. It’s like teaching your kids to swim. If you are around water, that could literally be a life saving skill for them to have.

Because not everyone on the internet is a bad guy, or girl. Figuring out who is genuine and who is fake is incredibly hard. Over the course of my career, I watched the internet grow. I was an expert on many aspects of the internet. I can’t say that I always figured it out. But, I do know that I have a couple of friends whom are the payoff for being willing to search through the online swamp.

David

David and I have been friends for at least five years. It might be as long as ten, but when you don’t physically ever meet someone, it’s hard to judge. We have very little in common. We met in a political discussion group. He’s very liberal. I’m very conservative. We’ve, at times, completely been disgusted with one another for some political post. Fortunately, neither one of us feels like politics is a good enough reason to abandon a friend.

We’ve both left the group where we met. We still talk politics, but we are just as likely to discuss theater (he’s an award winning playright) or geography. He’s travelled from his home in Illinois to Utah and this week he is retracing some of the trails through Southern Utah that we take our scouts on. Schedules won’t let me make the 4 hour trip to meet up with him in Cedar City, UT. But, he’s posted numerous pictures that I’ve been able to comment on. (Who knew that being able to identify Scrub Oak and Bristlecone Pine would be so useful.)

David and I may never meet. And yet, I grieved with him as his beloved wife succumbed to a long battle with cancer. He’s expressed similar kind thoughts as my granddaughter struggled for life shortly after birth. He is certainly a friend and I would count him a close friend.

Margit

I’ve known Margit for over 20 years. We’ve met exactly twice. Once when my family stopped to see her perform in a Renaissance Faire during a family vacation to California and then years later when I flew down to attend her wedding. But, our most memorable interactions have been online. We met in a writing forum dedicated to the writing of Orson Scott Card. The writing group eventually folded, but we remained friends. We reconnected on Facebook. I’ve continued the writing in ways she hasn’t, but recently she posted a story that she’d written that the kids at school where she’s a librarian asked her to share.

We’ll probably never see each other again. And I hope we remain friends for many years.

Mark

Unlike David and Margit, I have met Mark in real life. He is literally the friend I’ve known the longest. We met in the 5th grade as a couple of geeky 10 year olds. We were friends through Middle School and High School. I even stayed at his house for a few months after graduation. Like many friends in the pre-internet days, we drifted apart. We each got married, had kids and established careers. And then, Facebook reconnected us. We hadn’t seen each other for over two decades and all of sudden it didn’t matter.

In 2010 Time magazine chose Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder to be the Time Person of the Year. They chose him over Julian Assange, who had set up the wikileaks site and was shaking up the international scene with some of the revelations posted on that site. Mark thought it was a corporate sell out to pick Zuckerberg over Assange.

Well, Mark, I don’t know who will have a more lasting impact on the world, but we haven’t seen each other in 15 years and the only reason we are even discussing this is because of Facebook.

Yeah, I guess you have a point.

I’ve often considered what leads to an online friendship. Sure, Mark and I knew each other, but I met David and Margit online. I think it’s the same thing that leads to friendships IRL (in real life): common interests and developing a relationship of trust. While I’m a person who spends a lot of time online, there is a very clear seperation between what I share and what I don’t. It’s not because I’m trying to mislead anyone. But, the internet is forever. I assume that anything I post online will be available forever and to anyone who may not have my best interests in mind.

And yet, over the past decades, as these three friends have shown they will respect my privacy, I have shared more with them than anyone outside of family. As I attempt to teach my kids to be safe online, these three are examples of how it’s possible to build and strengthen online friendships.

I don’t have anything against online friendships. After all, some of my best friends are online.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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