How different are online and offline relationships?

By | December 4, 2014

It's not too often that someone whom I know only virtually passes away, and leaves enough of an impact to make it actually worth dedicating a post to it. And here is one such person: +Dieter Mueller, known for his provocative obsession with genitalia, cynicism, and irony. But what makes his death unique is not just a personal virtual connection: it is notable that a community of virtual acquaintances – and a damn intelligent one at that – respond precisely as one might respond to an actual, in-person relationship, only on a digital medium.

If you take a look at the attached post and the comment discussion contained within, you'll see elements of relationship and reaction that are, perhaps, unusual for an online environment:
– personal concern, to the point of checking in with the police as to what's going on
– group collaboration to figure out what happened
– reflection on that person's life and of each other's experiences and encounters with the deceased
– people who have not heard from each other for some time congregate together again – as an old saying goes, there are three events when people gather: birth, marriage, and death.

… really, except for the distances and media, there are quite a few elements that make online relationships just as intense as offline ones.

Yet at the same time, there are immense differences: without the in-person touch, tone, gesture, and expression experiences, limited communication heightens the potential for misunderstandings and misinterpretations. The digital environment makes communication even more ambiguous than ever before. But is ambiguity really a difference? We have enough ambiguity in daily language, and misunderstand each other often enough even before the additional challenges of the digital medium.

Surely, there are differences. And surely, many people take online and offline relationships differently. Yet, as the linked post demonstrates, true relationships still remain the same at their essence – regardless of whether they are online, offline, or both.

Originally shared by +Eileen O’Duffy

Yes, it is possible to have genuine online friends, we miss you Dieter
Two years ago, +Dieter Mueller played an experiment where he deleted his G+ account in order to show the superficial nature of online friendships and what he called the ‘big data cow’. His experiment failed miserably when scores and scores of people contacted him to know was he okay and to come back and join us again.
Sadly, Dieter has departed for good this time. In true Dieter style, and in his own words he has stage managed his own death. I’ve no doubt he is above there now looking down at us all and smiling, but I’m sad we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I hope Dieter has finally found the rest he desired.

Mein Freitod
When you can read this it means I have successfully departed from this Planet. In the Spirit of Nietzsche and the Stoics I have chosen to end what would have ended some Day anyway.

24. November 2014 somewhere around 5:00 am – when all the Plebs were sleeping and the Night and it’s Silence were mine.

Since I have written many Books, Tens of Thousands Articles, Posts, Comments and Essays I can’t think of anything I haven’t typed before many T…

8 thoughts on “How different are online and offline relationships?

  1. Giselle Minoli

    +Gideon Rosenblatt it is most worthy of thinking about. It's nice to see you here.

    +Sophie Wrobel it has been a long long time since I have lived in a community small enough to know the comings and goings and passing of its citizens. The G+ community has fulfilled a very important part of my interest in and need for communication and conversation. I think it is organic in that way and people are drawn to one another for a variety of complex reasons, just like in real life.

    But I also think people grow, change, evolve, leave, return, drop out, drop in, say Hello, come back…because our lives are complicated. I understand +Brian Titus wanting a different kind of connection when it gets rough. And +Gideon Rosenblatt I think you can take your ability to irritate as a compliment!

    Sometimes I want a real meaty convo. Other times I'd rather sit in the cafe with a nice latte and a brioche and people's watch.

  2. Eileen O'Duffy

    A really nice post +Sophie Wrobel I missed it last night as rather ironically I was at a monthly meet up (originally called a tweet up) with a group of people I had met online and now we meet in real life #DalkeyOpen
    Yes indeed, true relationships remain the same at their essence regardless of whether they are online or offline.

  3. Gideon Rosenblatt

    Yeah, interesting, I know what you're saying, +Sophie Wrobel. There are definitely people here who, if they suddenly passed away, I would be crushed. Most of my lighter-weight connections here, however, aren't in that league. The difference can be subtle too.

  4. Sophie Wrobel

    +Gideon Rosenblatt​ in my town, people know each other since kindergarden and are now at the age where they start passing away. Some of the death news arrives quickly – say, during afternoon tea – and others takes time – say, the notice in the local newspaper.

    Most of us 'go with the flow' and do end up with at least one common digital communication platforms, even when platforms continually change. The 'Buzz Refugees' community here, for example, contains numerous members who have 'kept together' over two or three platform changes now, not necessarily even the same platform owner. The group had grown and shrunk, but I'd bet the core clique will stay together somehow until death takes its toll. Perhaps this is the digital equivalent of staying together. Either way, I think a lot depends on the quality of each individual relationship. Would I care if a business partner passed away? Probably not to the same extent as if a cherished discussion partner passed away. And certainly more than if a fan who I've only seen giving +1s every now and then passed away.

    If anything, we may be able to finally quantify and qualify the types of relationships we have according to our digital interaction patterns with greater ease than possible offline, and identify which candidates are most likely to still care 30-40 years down the road. Maybe something +Lee Smallwood​ or +John Kellden​ may be interested in developing.

  5. Gideon Rosenblatt

    Nicely stated, +Sophie Wrobel. My wife and I have been talking about Dieter quite a bit over the past few days, even though I didn't really know him (aside from the fact that I most definitely irritated him). All kinds of thoughts, but your post made me think of this:

    Hopefully, it will be many more years before more of us go, and hopefully it will not be at our own hands. If it is years from now, let's say 30-40 years from now – how many of us will still be in touch and will care when one of us passes like this?

    This isn't in any way a rhetorical question – I could see it going either way, with lots of us staying in touch by whatever the medium is then, or most of us losing touch as we move to different media of connection.

  6. T. Pascal

    Nicely worded, this echos my comment about the fact there were so many people touched all around world by this.


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