Monday, 7 November 2011

when internet friends die. do you ever find out?

Over the years we have become more and more reliant on the internet in our day-to-day lives.  We use it for shopping/banking/keeping in contact with friends.  We read the news, watch videos, and keep up with the gossip on our favourite celebrities.  

But more and more we are using the internet to make the acquaintance of people we otherwise would never have met, through chat sites, message forums and social networking sites.  As such we are able to form friendships with people beyond our previously narrower social circle.

Sometimes those friendships go on to develop into more real life friendships.  I know people who have met their partners/husbands through the internet, either on chat sites or on dating websites designed specifically for the purpose.  I have personally met people who I originally met on the internet and who are now close friends of mine. 

But sometimes due to circumstances and/or often distance it is just not possible to physically meet up with people we meet online.  And as such I guess we now find ourselves in a position where friendships are divided into two groups – our physical friends, and our internet friends.

And this is where I find myself wondering about whether having internet friend’s makes us possibly more separated.  After all, if your means of communication with someone you’ve only met on the internet are limited to emails, online chat and possibly phone calls, it is, in fact, extremely easy to obliterate those people from your life, or in fact to be obliterated from theirs.  All you have to do is switch off the computer after all, and then they’re gone.

Which leads me to something I have wondered about a few times, but which has come up more specifically for me recently, what happens when one of your internet friends dies?  Or indeed, what would happen if you died – would someone close to you know to inform your internet friends?  Indeed, would someone close to you even know who your internet friends were? 

If one of your internet friends died, they would just disappear from your screen, never to be seen or heard of again, and it’s entirely possible that you would never even know they had died.  After all it’s not a natural conclusion to come to, unless you had reason to believe that death was a possibility. 

If I died I’m not entirely sure I would want someone close to me to announce it on twitter, or on any of the websites I frequent, but equally I do wonder if those people I have formed friendships with through the internet would ever come to learn of my demise, or whether they would in fact just decide I had left internet life for now and would eventually be back, only to forget about me in time when I didn’t return. 

I think the internet is a great resource for befriending people, but I do wonder as to whether those friendships are caught in the here and now, and are volatile in the sense that we can essentially turn them on and off with the flick of a switch, and that if life takes that ability out of our hands, whether the friendships we have formed through the internet in fact are considered worthy of the same consideration in terms of informing those friends that we have perhaps passed on.


  1. Good post. A couple of years ago, my BIL died. He was a big world of warcraft fan, and so DH had the job of creating an avatar and finding his guild, to let them know what had happened. Once close friends and family knew, he also posted it on facebook. It might seem insensitive, but there was no way to ring round or individually contact everyone, and acquaintances deserved to know.
    Still, if BIL was on a forum we didn't know about, they might still think he just logged off.

  2. Oh, this is a thought provoking post, and one that I may have to come back to later.

    I do hope that someone would let my internet friends know if I were to die, although since I have a bit of cross-over on Facebook and twitter of real and online friends, I suspect it would not be necessary.

    Would it be really odd to compile a list of websites and ask my husband (a total non-techy who would be happy if we were all still using Olivetti typewriters) to let people know?

  3. My husband and I discussed this in April. I had almost died, and he said that announcing it to my online readers and friends was something that he had been thinking about while I was in the coma following my surery.

    We agreed that if the worst happened in the future, which it better had not, at least , not for a long time, he would update my Facebook page and write a paragraph on my blog. He would allow people to read and react if they want, and then delete both sites after a week or so.

    Scary thoughts though, and hopefully won't have to think about them again for a long time..

  4. Several years ago, when my youngest sister died unexpectedly, I did make up a list of my online connections and saved it on an SD card, along with all of my accounts and passwords.

    Needless to say, it hasn't been updated since.

    I really should get onto that...

  5. I came at this issue from a slightly different direction. I seem to spend much of my virtual life being a clown whilst in real life I often feel I'm drowning under stress. After a mini-meltdown last week i decided to write a blog in which I tried to explain a bit more about who I am and how I feel.

    It got a lot of readers (by my low standards) and a lot of comments of support and sympathy. But the odd thing is, I've realised that most of my virtual friends know more about the real me than my RL friends do. As a result I've come to view my virtual friends as every bit as real as my RL friends are.

    In answer to your question - yes I'd want me virtual friends to know I've passed on not p*ssed off...