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By Gabe Knox

If you’ve read my last few columns, it may surprise you to know that I have friends.

Friends I’ve had for a while, but ones I never see. They’ve all gone to other towns to get their degree and pursue their lifelong goals of wondering what to do with a history degree for 10 years. Now that they’re all coming home for the holidays, I’m realizing more and more what a large part the Internet has in creating and maintaining friendships.

We pick up where we left off, not from the last time we saw each other, but from the last time we talked over MSN. There’s absolutely no catching up to do: all the private inside jokes are there, the latest gossip is already known, even details of the way their university works is standard discourse.

Of course, keeping in touch with people over the ‘net is pretty much standard these days, and even your grandma probably knows about it. But the weird thing is to me the extent that people of my generation have embraced it. I was talking to someone the other day about relationships, and he was telling me about how he didn’t even talk to his girlfriend on the phone until a month after he met her through some friends.

It was all over Instant Messaging. I asked around, and after talking to a few people, it seems this is kind of a common phenomenon.

It got me thinking that if I ever got the nerve to talk to a girl, I’m pretty sure it would be over MSN, too. So has the Internet completely changed the way we interact with each other? If you’re wondering why the hell you should care, why don’t I throw some highbrow references, to answer that question.

Marshall McLuhan once wrote that we live in an aural culture — that is, TV, the telephone and the radio changed the way we communicate with one another. According to that guy, we underwent some huge change from the last 500 years, when communication was done mainly in print, and absorbed visually (“visual culture” if you will).

What dude didn’t predict was the Internet (actually, nobody did, that’s why you never saw Captain Kirk google “hot andorian ass” on Star Trek). With the Instant Message Revolution in full swing, we might just be getting back to a world where being a good writer is just as important as having good social skills.

After all, you may be just as funny or charming over the net while you’re picking your nose or sitting in your underwear as if you were sitting in the bar looking like a million bucks. So, if you’re wondering this holiday season how you can still be so friendly to someone you haven’t seen in three months, look no further than your laptop.

But don’t forget that as close as you are to him or her, pants are still required.

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