Cameras (and camera phones, of course) are wonderful at capturing all of those little moments in life: one quick scroll through your social media feeds will expose you to a wealth of perfect views, symmetrical breakfasts and more. Almost all of them have been artfully staged, lightened and filtered, of course, and likely accompanied by a plethora of nifty hashtags, too.
Hardly any of them, however, are anything like the photo which Abby Murphy shared on the Love What Matters Facebook page earlier this week.
The image, which Murphy addresses to all of those people “who say the village is dead”, seems, at a first glance, incredibly banal: it’s an empty car seat with the labels still attached. And the accompanying story, at first, doesn’t shy away from that fact, either.
“This is a car seat,” writes Murphy. “It arrived on my porch this afternoon.”
She goes on to reveal that the brand-new piece of baby equipment was delivered to her home “approximately two days after venting to a dear friend”.
“[This is] a friend I have never met in person,” adds Murphy. “[My friend is] one of those ‘online’ friends people scoff at us for having and relying on. A friend who has offered and provided meals when my child was hospitalised, a friend who was ready to get on a plane to help me when I was in tears seven months pregnant trying to move my family across country. A friend who's offered an ear too many times to count when I've been overwhelmed with my middle daughter's autism diagnosis and subsequent treatment.”
Murphy continues: “[She is] a friend I have never met. A friend who has gone above and beyond so many times. One of those ‘online’ friends.
“[And] she listened to me as I listed off how unprepared I was for the imminent arrival of the newest member of our family. How I still needed to get out the baby things, organise and wash clothes, find a babysitter, get a car seat, get a clue in general.
“Here, two days later arrives a car seat. Not because I couldn't or wouldn't eventually get it myself, but because she saw a need, and a way to alleviate one check on an overwhelmed mom's long list of to do's.”
Murphy finishes by saying: “This is more than a car seat to me. It will forever be a reminder that there are really good people out there: people who care, people who go above and beyond.
The post, at time of writing, has been shared 1,497 times, and garnered over 28,000 likes.
Comments underneath the image make it very clear that many people have forged incredible friendships online – and that they consider their ‘online pals’ to be every bit as important as those they meet up with regularly in the organic world.
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“My niece met her best friend online,” wrote one. “They don't even live in the same country. But I swear their friendship rivals others who grew up living on the same street.”
Another added: “My online friends are daily reminders to me that there are people out there that are good, and caring, and helpful in so many ways as we go through hardships together, even though we've never met. It's a worldwide connection.”
“I had ‘just online friends’ that I had never met,” shared one Facebook user. “They stepped up to the plate last year and loved me while I had cancer. They even donated money to me because they knew I couldn't work then and that my medical bills would be insane.
“I think both ‘in person’ friends and ‘online’ friends play such important roles in our lives... sometimes different roles, but equally as important.”
And one, referring to her own online pals as a “tribe”, revealed: “I have an online tribe of women I love and respect and will forever be grateful for. I've had the pleasure of meeting a few of them in person but even the ones I haven't – I am blessed to know them.”
Among the many comments, however, there was one in particular which caught our eye.
“I am forever grateful for and inspired by the people in my life who hear a need and DO rather than just give a vague offer of help or even worse pretend not to notice,” it read. “The people who show up with hearts and arms full, those are the people everyone needs in their life.
“I am so thankful to have some in mine and strive to be one for others.”
It’s a firm reminder that friendships can be forged both online and IRL – and, while some may still claim it’s ‘weird’ to befriend someone you’ve never met before, experts are constantly reminding us that our relationships are no more or less authentic in either digital or non-digital space.
Sociologist Nathan Jurgenson, speaking with New Republic, dubs this “digital dualism”.
“We’re coming to terms with there being just one reality and digital is part of it, not any less real or true,” he said. “What you do online and what you do face-to-face are completely interwoven.”
And, writing about it in The New Inquiry, he added that this “digital dualism” could help us to come to terms with the fact that so much of our lives takes place online.
“We may never fully log off, but this in no way implies the loss of the face-to-face, the slow, the analog, the deep introspection, the long walks, or the subtle appreciation of life sans screen,” writes Jurgenson.
“We enjoy all of this more than ever before.”