I often hear people decry time spent online as taking away from "real" relationships. I was reminded of that again this morning as our house and church basement are full of young people who we almost certainly would not have known without the internet.
These are my daughter's best friends. She met them ten and more years ago. They live in Wisconsin, Texas, Indiana, and Ohio. When she first started getting to know them we lived in Illinois. I originally met all of their parents online through a homeschool email list or two. During their high school years they kept in touch via email and chat, seeing each other a couple of times a year. She has been lucky enough to live in the same town as one or two of them for a year here and there, but if they hadn't already known each other, their paths wouldn't likely have crossed. Due to the cliquish nature of the homeschool community we found when we moved to Fort Wayne, the hours she spent chatting and emailing kept her from being a very lonely girl.
Earlier this week my friend Jenny was here from central Illinois with her husband and daughter. I met Jenny on an email list a few years ago, and, when she came with a group of other moms for a visit, she met Bethany and decided that her brother needed to, too. So she brought him for a visit. Bethany and Evan kept in touch while he was in Iraq. Now they are looking toward their first anniversary in August and their first child in September. He graduated from college in Minnesota and was in the army. She graduated from college in Indiana and was working as a paralegal. But for the internet, their paths weren't likely to cross.
Email and message board friends saved us in the early years of homeschooling when I had no in-person homeschooling contacts. Most of my closest friendships have come about because of the internet. And old friendships have been renewed through Facebook. And even local friendships are enriched by sharing pictures, activities, and the little ups and downs online.
I have lots of in-person friends and "real-life" activities, but the value of the time that I've spent online--from the early social network of AOL, to later message boards and email lists, to Facebook and Twitter now--has paid me richly in relationships and quality added to our lives.