When I was a child and actually well into my twenties, people had real-life friends. With the introduction and increase in the use of the internet, most of us now have friends in cyberspace too. Who are yours? What do you get out of contact with them?
Here's my experience for what it's worth
1. My first foray into the world of internet friendships was via the Netmums social networking site having found the website address in my Emma's Diary, given to mums-to-be in the first attempt to persuade them that there is a rulebook for pregnancy and parenthood. I would respond to people's views in the Coffee House forum and post hopeful (desperate!) pleas for friendship on the Meet a Mum boards.
Mums responded to my posts but I bottled actually meeting up with them. After all, I suppose it was technically possible that they could be axe murderers. Once I arranged a meeting, took one look at the Mum in question and scurried shyly away.
When my own mum died, I think I realised for the first time that the high possibility was that I too would die at some point. Maybe I should stop holding myself back and actually try and get a bit of a life.
As a result, I joined the Stanningley Wives Group (see previous posts for the joys and challenges of that particular period in my life).
I also met up individually with two mums. One I could not take to as she seemed obsessed with material things so not my type at all. It was odd as we had shared many emails and seemed to have lots in common but I felt we were not destined to be friends.
The other seemed a real kindred spirit and we met up a few times until I made a stupid mistake and did not attend her son's birthday party. I offended her and I was in the wrong but also going through one of my depression times when I retreat from the world. Although these may seem like tiny social steps, they were huge for me. Somehow, I had got lost in ten years of coupledom and parenthood.
I have moved to a new area of the country and am again seeking new friends via the internet and in other ways too. It is an ongoing journey but Netmums gave me a kickstart so thanks for that.
2. A few years ago, everyone seemed to be banging on about Facebook. I got the impression that if I did not have a Facebook account, I might be heading towards being a non-person. So I set up an account and Facebook immediately started irritating me. All those mindless games annoyed me. I participate in the occasional one now trying not to be up my arse too much but I don't really get it.
I left the account alone really until I got involved with the Stanningley wives and realised they kept in touch via that medium. I enjoyed the banter particularly around the time of the General Election. Mums commenting on politicial affairs - I know it shocks you but we do sit at home with active minds. We even have opinions when husbands and the outside world allow us to.
Now my Facebook friends list is a mixed bag.
The nicer Stanningly wives amuse me daily with their comings and goings. We can also support each other through the tough times of illness, stress or relationship troubles.
There are old school friends on there too that I have not seen for more than twenty years. Contact with them makes me feel odd - like time-travelling but now they look older and have these things called children. At core, they don't seem to have changed much though. Perhaps none of us do!
Facebook also was how I learned of the death of a peer from school. Visiting her memorial site led to contact with someone I had been seeking for years. A heartfelt friend and we are on the start of a revival of the two of us.
I have university friends too and I enjoy the challenges to my mind they provide. They say if you don't use it, you lose it so thanks to Richard, Luisa and others who ensure I use it all the time! They also use terms like "fierce" about me which when you are feeling like a fat and useless blob really help to give you a sassy sense of self. You make a difference.
If you look closely on my Facebook list, you will also spot my very ugly sisters. Actually they are lovely looking but I know at least one will read this and you have to pick on your little sisters, it's the law. The sisters are special as they are half-sisters born to my birth mum and only found in later life. We have not met but that seems possible now we have put in the trust-building work via the internet for a year or two.
So, although still cynical about Facebook, it has changed my life for the better
I love Twitter! I like it so much more than Facebook. More focus on communication than silly games. There is scope to be so creative with it too which suits me as I am very much an ideas person.
I joined Twitter when Philip Schofield mentioned it on the telly.
I was in a very low place and fellow tweeters across the world helped me through it. One of them encouraged me to take my writing seriously having spotted my tweets. She helped me to stick with the blogging so huge thanks to her.
It is fun when you get a tweet from a famous novelist or another celebrity. So thanks to Richard Madeley, Kirstie Allsopp Philip Schofield, Sharon Marshall, Gok Wan, Jackie Collins and Katie Fforde for engaging with me via tweets. Especially Katie Fforde and Sharon Marshall who tell me it is true, I am actually a good writer! Twitter is a great leveller - we all have life struggles and joys no matter our social background or income level. We all need to decide what to have for tea or to watch on the telly. Did you know I even have a celebrity follower so I must be worth knowing right?
The strength of Twitter is everyday people sharing news, views, opinions and information. Having a laugh and a cry together.
If you feel isolated, Twitter is always there with someone to engage with. That's just a few of the reasons I like it so much.
4. I am making new friends via my blog. It is good to hear that people have gone through similar thoughts, feelings and experiences. It is particularly satisfying when people are struggling and I make them laugh and see the brighter side of things.
Sometimes I write quite selfish blogs. I do try not to do this but sometime I think it is better that people know the real me, warts and all.
I love watching my number of followers increase and to see such thought-provoking comments. My blog followers and readers are a very special community. And a very mixed bag - from potty-trainers to professors, from breast-feeders to therapists, from teachers to stay at home mums, from celebrities to people who should be.
So despite being a technophobe, I love having internet friendships. I find it quite liberating to be able to be so open and honest online. I would like to have the confidence to be so engaging in real-life rather than being the shy one, the quiet one, the blob in the corner. But hey, I might get there yet!
Here's to you all and do let me know about your online mates.