In another project that I am involved in at the moment, I have been reading a lot about online/virtual communities. A popular argument is that given the judicious use of technology and interaction, virtual communities can be as rewarding, if not more rewarding, than face to face communities.
One of the arguments usually made to support the value of getting to know people online is that I am able to find people who match my interests and values better if I look for them online. If I were left to just the people I come in contact with on a regular basis, I might be left with a pretty small group of real friends.
First, the act of creating communities among those who are very much like me is inherently narcissistic. I go to MySpace, my favorite forum board, Goggle some topic I am fond of, and find someone to talk with. It all begins with me and what I find interesting and important. Part of what is so valuable with face to face communication is that if forces me to interact with people unlike myself, people I do not presently like, and people with whom I have a very difficult time communicating. It forces me to grow.
Secondly, one of the values of face to face friendships is that they make me expand and step out of my personal likes and dislikes. A good friend will help me become a better person, in part, by being different than I am. If I am to enjoy their company, I am going to learn how to interact with them on a deep and meaningful level.
If I am buried in virtual communities of people who are mostly like me, and find most of my relationships in these circles, I lose out on these real and meaningful benefits of face to face interactions.