I read a short article in Psychologies Magazine the other day about friendship.

Apparently new research has suggested that being able to predict how a friend would react in a given situation is a sign of how strong your friendship is.

Now, if you know me at all you know that in Real Life I’m not the most sociable, being chronically shy and having only a few close friends rather than a large group. By far most of my contact is online with friends I have made through Twitter and Facebook, with some existing relationships BF (Before Facebook) being strengthened through the confidence boost I get by not having the pressure of face-to-face contact (Funnily enough, in a professional capacity eg when I was working as a nursery nurse or a guide at Beamish Museum, this pressure was actually relieved. Will blog about this in its own right I think). And you do wonder, every now and then, whether the doom-predictors and nay-sayers are right and that our relationships are becoming more shallow and suffering through not having more face-to-face contact. Until now I’ve rather timidly disagreed but this research is making me stick my neck out and disagree more emphatically.

If this is a good guide of friendship, then I have made some very real, lasting and solid friendships and I have a big network of friends. I can say that there are many people I count as online friends that I could confidently predict their reactions to a whole range of situations. Up until now, I may have mentally categorised these friendships as Online Friendships (other than a few), or had an argument prepared in my head in defence of these relationships for those who’d say they were less valuable than real-life ones. On the contrary, I cannot think of many Real Life friends that I could do a similar exercise with with the same confidence.

Of course, this is assuming that you accept this as a good test of how well you know someone. I’d say it’s an extremely good test, as it indicates an empathy with someone. I might not know where someone went to school or who their first crush was but I’d bet I could tell you their reaction to a piece of news or a government policy. I’d say that was far greater depth of friendship and understanding than most people have with some of their work colleagues who they see, in the flesh, every day. It’s merely a shift in understanding of the concept of friendship. A computer doesn’t have to be a big clunky tower and monitor, a book isn’t necessarily a bunch of paper within a cardboard cover. Friendships don’t need face-to-face contact to thrive and blossom.

So, to all my online friends reading this, here’s a toast to the changing face of friendship. And to you.