Friendship in the Digital Age


My BFF Paula Wong and BTF Krystyn Chong. Photo by The Milkie Studio

I've lived in Seattle most of my life and have friendships that span decades. My BFF Paula Wong and I are both sansei — third generation Japanese-Americans. We went to some of the same schools and through different paths we became graphic designers.

Knowing each other for 45 years, we've watched our kids grow from infancy to adults. Professionally, we’ve gone from lead type, phototype and Exacto knives, to falling in love with our first Macs more than 20 years ago. In fact, I have Paula to thank for my tech addiction! When she worked for Aldus, Paula gave me a much-needed nudge to switch from traditional to digital design.

Having shared history, knowing each another's families, being there to experience and support major life events means we share a friendship with great depth and meaning — a rare gift in an era where life moves so quickly that often all we can do is skim the surface.

I think real friendships are important to all of us. How would we get through life without them


L-R: The Sansei Lunch Club: Paula, Terri, Vic Kubo and Glen Iwasaki. Four graphic designers and friends who have been celebrating birthday lunches since the 1990s.

People now have more ways than ever to connect, but I sometimes feel like technology is isolating me from — rather than bringing me closer — to some of my real-life friends.

It's easier to send an email than pick up the phone. Getting together takes time and effort. Have email, Facebook, Twitter and Skype actually caused erosion of “real” friendships? With the expansion of our communities through social media, where do “virtual” friends fit into the current cultural landscape? And how does the quality of real-life relationships differ from those conceived online?

During the past 18 months I’ve “met” some great people through social media who have caused me to re-examine my perceptions about what encompasses a real friendship.

Last month, Krystyn Chong, my “BTF” (Best Twitter Friend) flew to Seattle to attend Gnomedex, a tech conference founded by Chris Pirillo. Previously we’d talked on the phone and frequently emailed and messaged each other, but had never met in person.

Krys is a persona. She's connected to incredible people in all walks of life, and draws them toward her like a moth to flame. A long-time blogger and online denizen, she’s made a name for herself, not just because she's attractive and smart, but she’s a social media aficionado. She has 15,000 followers on Twitter, regularly creates content for her blog, is a popular DJ on, and recently began publishing to Vimeo with works like “Twitter, Turn it up!

She and I met for the first time at Chic Meets Geek, a pre-Gnomedex event, and later she stayed with my family and me for four days. She is pretty, petite and lively — definitely WYSIWYG. But spending time together was important because it allowed me to get beyond her online personality. It was great to do that. How else could I have known that she would develop a crush on my 23-year-old son? Or that she loves Skittles?

It’s amazing to have "friends" all over the world, whose birthdays are celebrated, and whose life events are updated and inquired about in much the same way we would with friends in real life. Online friendships are especially great for people who are shy or want to maintain a layer of anonymity. If they aren't "cool" in real life, they can be cool online. As the famous New Yorker cartoon said, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.


The above cartoon by Peter Steiner has been reproduced from page 61 of July 5, 1993 issue of The New Yorker, (Vol.69 [LXIX] no. 20) Its use is editorial only.

So I’ve found myself in a strange new place, where numerous messages I exchange each day are with people I haven't met yet, but I've come to care about very much.

It's hard to imagine having a friendship like Paula's without the two of us spending so much time together over the years. I'm lucky to have — and grateful for — all of my friendships. But I long for the time when I will meet some of my online peeps in real life. For me, meeting face-to-face authenticates a connection in a way that can’t be accomplished otherwise.

I'm looking forward to some day being able to give my virtual friends real (((hugs))) instead of virtual ones.

Paula Wong is Senior Director of Creative Labs for the fabulously successful (and addictive) PopCap Games in Seattle, WA. 
Krystyn Chong (@krystynchong) is a social media maven in Sacramento, CA. Find her blog at

Photographer Fred Milkie’s recently published book, Alone Around the Mountain, has been nominated for a 2011 PNWB award.

Thanks to award-winning copywriter David Horsfall for reading this journal entry.


  1. Thank you for sharing and writing such an inspiring journey entry, Terri.

    Knowing you has been the best experience out of Twitter for me. You've enriched my life and brought infinite amounts of joy and laughter to it. I am so proud to call you my best twitter friend as well as a mentor, you apple tech geek guru, you.

    Paula is a gem, I can see why you both get along so well.

    I hold the time spent in Seattle close to my heart and will treasure the awesome memories shared with you and your amazing family.


  2. @ellies581:01 AM

    AWWW...this is absolutely true. As you know; I too have been amazed at how close you can become to an online friend! I know that it is a two dimensional world but, there are those people that you know will transcend that world; to enter into your life as Real friends!
    I want to say right here and now too....Terri and are both two of the most intelligent, kind and Wonderful Women that I have met! I hope to add you both to my "Paula Wongs"!!! You have both been mentors and friends. And in fact; Krys is the main reason I didn't give up on Twitter!
    Luv and {{{HUGGLES}}} to both of you!


  3. Hi Paula, you are right indeed.I have family and friends all over the world I don't get to see everyday and technology makes easier for us to know what each other is doing and how we are getting along. I even get to see pictures,videos and that's wonderful indeed. I have also met a lot of interesting people via the internet and some friendships have lasted longer than even my real life friendship.Can you believe that?Its been interesting all the way.However,i got to say that nothing beats seeing your friends in the flesh you want to.its so much fun...Nice meeting you ,Paula.Am Gladys. Hope we become great friends too.

  4. Well Terri, you sure know how to make someone guilty for not showing up for a tweetup ;)

    As someone who not only values anonymity, but relies on it for certain aspects of my online life - (ooooh, the mystery!!!! - that you already know) I can definitely say that it provides a nice warm blanket that also serves as a distancing invisible (but palpable) shield. Part of the reason I think you, out of everyone else I know from Twitter, are probably my closest friend there is that we've met in person. The connection to the real world intensifies everything and gives you and orienting context that makes every other virtual relationship almost incorporeal. You're occupying space in my reality where everyone else, no matter how much I know they're real people, disappear like smoke when I walk away from the screen. I don't forget them. It's impossible to forget people which such bright personalities or unlikely kindnesses that you can find there. We know a lot of the same tweeps and can see the real meaning in those friendships in how we impact them - and how they reflect it. But in some ways they're infinitely easier to dismiss without having ever shared an awkward lie or laugh in the same room. Or as you put it, easier to skim.

    My situation with RL friends is different. All of mine are in a far away place called the midwest and my only contact is through FB or email. Sure, I have work friends that I connect with on FB as well, but without FB, I doubt I'd have communicated with even some of my best friends in the past year. I'm just not good at it. Besides that, I've been carrying on virtual real friendships for long enough that my real friends have all changed completely - and without me. We still talk, but almost all of our conversations now are echoes of conversations we had 20 years ago. It's like revisiting a dream in some respects.

    So here's where it gets tricky. Are they more real as ghosts of the past than the ghosts of the present? In some ways you're more real to me than them because we have a more current context. So, like your time with Krys, you've created some form of reality that rises above the dismiss-ability of [many but not all] virtual friends.

    Which is more real or relevant? I'm not sure.

  5. Dear Krys & Ellie,

    Thanks for taking the time to read this, and Krys, I'm glad our friendship graduated from virtual to real! Meeting in person was the realisation of a dream for me. It would be so awesome for the three of us to get together!

    Ellie, I think it's just a matter of time before we connect some day! Road trip to Canada, anyone?

    Until we get together, sending virtual (((hugs))) your way, and thank you both for your friendship.

    Love, Terri


    Hello Gladys!

    Nice to meet you :-) and thanks for reading my post.

    I agree there is a connection to many online friends that feels real because of the time and effort spent getting to know one another.

    Sometimes I think people are more forthcoming when you meet them online because it can be easier to share things with a stranger than with people you know in real life. It goes back to that protective layer, and also when you meet someone new, it gives us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves :-)

    Your comment made me realise I haven't really identified myself. My name is Terri and I look forward to connecting with you again. Thanks again for reading!

    Warm hugs, Terri


    Dear Nixtastic,

    Shame on you for spending so much time writing such a thoughtful comment here, when I know you have many more important things to do!

    But in your typically eloquent and to-the-point fashion, your insights about friends — recent and distant — ring true. It may be that we rerun stories with old friends because those were the most fun times shared with them, or in some cases, that's where the friendship left off.

    The friends we share on Twitter, in some ways, are more connected to us than people in real life because of how frequently we "talk" to one another. I think for both of us, we may have a more current picture of what is happening in the lives of our tweeps than of people we know in real life!

    I feel very special that you've allowed me into your real life, and I'm always mindful about respecting your privacy. I'm looking forward to continuing our friendship through all the channels we use.

    Love, Terri

  6. Very insightful and thoughtful post on how connected we are online, but we may be eroding our friendships at the same time.

    I think today, more than ever, we have to make a conscious effort to keep those real connections going. This doesn't mean we shouldn't seek out new connections online and if possible turn them into friendships and relationships; it just means that we must make the effort for all of our friendships and relationships.

    Do we have the time to accomplish that? I am not sure.


  7. Dear John,

    Many thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

    Your response about making conscious efforts to keep real connections alive is so true. It sometimes takes exceptional effort, especially since everyone's schedules always seem so packed. Trying to find a mutually available calendar date can require tenacity!

    I do wonder if, in the end, it will be the most engaged friendships (whether on or offline) that will receive our attention?

    Cheers and thanks again, Terri

  8. Lovely Terri, you are a gifted writer and thinker with a generous heart.


  9. Dear Aliza,

    You are one of my real-life friends I don't see often enough! Thank you for reading and commenting. I hope we can get together soon!

    Love, Terri

  10. Beautiful, kind, amazing Terri... I found your post serendipitously . Yesterday, overwhelmed with by Twitter noise and lack of meaningful connections that day, I was ready to idle. Your post made me remember why I'm here...

    Thank you - I look forward to meeting you one day IRL


  11. Dear Kelly,

    I think most of us are susceptible to "Twitter burn out." Nixtastic (earlier commenter) and I have discussed it recently as a condition we experience when we're trying to connect with too many people.

    I feel lucky and happy you found my post, and honored you took the time to read it. Thanks so much for your comment, and I, too, would love to meet you some day IRL.

    Warm hugs, Terri

  12. Terri;

    I have been thinking a lot about online friendships over the last couple of days, and your essay just put the icing on the cake for me.

    I'm so fortunate to have made some very strong and lasting friendships online. True friendships, with all of the advantages that having friends like that come with.

    The only exception being that I have never met any of them. I might never meet some of them in person.

    But one thing I know is that I would never trade 'only' knowing them online for never having met them in the first place.

    My online friends bring so much to my life, and have enabled me to grow as a person, and become a better friend. People like you and Krys are the reason that I still believe in social media and the good it can do. Even when the going gets tough.

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful post :)

  13. Dear Lori,

    I loved your insightful comment, "I would never trade 'only' knowing them online for never having met them in the first place," and couldn't agree more!

    I've talked about my Twitter and other SM friends around the dinner table so often, that my family knows them by name; knows my connections with them and knows what's going on in THEIR lives. Sometimes it seems like meeting in real life is just a technicality because in every other respect the friendships feel real.

    But it doesn't change my desire to meet people like you, Ahad, Cindy, Paul and many others face-to-face. Even though it feels like it's already happened, it would be a dream come true for all of us to be together at the same time, in the same place — the same way as when we "see" each other online — but in real life. What a blast that would be!

    Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comments, Lori. I'm looking forward to connecting more with you on our virtual journey.

    Warm hugs, Terri

  14. Anonymous2:39 PM

    Love it, thanks for sharing!

  15. Dear Terri - Once again, you have shared a poignant insight on one of the subjects we all struggle to explain (if we take the time away from digital diversions to think about it).

    True friends, I think, are those that we can have multiple layers of relationship with - virtual and face-to-face.

    Digital acquaintances can be fleeting. I check my twitter followers from time to time and go huh? why's he following what I have to say...

    We first met in the old days of print design also - and it wasn't that long ago in today's rapidly changing environment - but we've been finishing each other's sentences ever since.

    Looking forward to seeing you in person later this month. In the meantime, thanks for the laughs, the useful insights and the great thinking!

    XO < Harry

  16. Dear Harry,

    I've often said people on Twitter have ADD — If you're out of sight, you're off their radar — so your comment about digital acquaintances being "fleeting," can be very true.

    When you and I get together, exchange our big hugs and then hunker down for a catch-up session of what's happening with our lives and our families — it just doesn't get better than that!

    Definitely looking forward to seeing you at the end of the month! Great moments are worth waiting for :-)

    XO < Terri


    Hello, Michelle! (Mishy79)

    Thanks for following me and thank you for stopping by my blog. I'm following you now & since you're in the 'hood, there's a good chance we'll meet some day at a tweet-up or other event.

    Until then, I'm looking forward to getting acquainted!

    Cheers and thanks,


  17. Terri, I love that with your thousands of Twitter friends you are still the same: articulate, thoughtful, generous, talented and gregarious. More power to making connections, be they IRL (I learned this just now!) or through social media. Keep emanating good stuff. I'm grateful for our long. deep friendship and for all of your support over the years.

    With much love and appreciation, Paula

  18. Dear Paula,

    One of my most treasured possessions is a card you wrote me while I was going through chemo. It fills me with so much joy — I can't tell you many times I've picked it up and read it, especially on days when I was feeling really down.

    No matter what happens, I know we'll always be there for each other. That makes us unbelievably blessed.

    Thank you for being such an amazing friend and person, and for your love and support.

    Love always, Terri

  19. Terri,

    What a touching post, and what a beautiful thing long term friendships can be.

    I was surprised to see that I met Vic, Paula, possibly Glen back in the first years when Kaoru and I moved to Seattle, 13 years ago. Over the years I've meant to reconnect. It's funny how the internet works it's web.

    Anyway, thanks, and best wishes,

    - Jed Share

  20. Dear Jed,

    Many thanks for taking the time to read & comment. The four of us (Vic, Paula, Glen and I) have certainly been both witnesses to and participants in each of our live's journeys over the years.

    It will be interesting to see how social media and the speed of life changes the quality of our relationships in the coming years. I remember furiously exchanging DMs with you when you first joined Twitter, then we sort of drifted apart—which is reflective of the very nature of the platform.

    So it's great to reconnect here. And perhaps you'll reconnect with Vic, Paula and Glen, as well!

    Thanks again for stoppy by! Warm wishes and gratitude,


  21. Dear Terri,

    Lovely post. I truly apologize for the late comment, and i'll say no more.

    BTW I love the cartoon of the dog from the New Yorker—classy site for a classy lady's blog!

    It's all about the conscious effort (as John very well put), and one can't make that with just everyone.

    Having said that, i'm very happy to have you as my friend, virtually for now and in the near future IRL. [You know what it seems like we've met many times already]

    You've been like a mother, friend, companion and mentor to me throughout the time we've known each other—and i truly appreciate that.

    You know me, i don't believe in hoards of friends. It's the ones that count that matter; the art is learning to keep the them for life.

    Love ya,

    Ahad B.

    ---> P.S.

    I haven't sent you your gift and feel God awful about it. Waiting to hand that over to you in person.

    You know what friend? I really feel that virtual friendships should stay virtual friendships, as they were created and meant to be that way.

    Pushing the envelope sometimes backfires, and i've seen that happen with so many people. The best possible outcome is when the real connection happens naturally..

  22. Anonymous2:56 AM

    Dear Ahad,

    Of all the people I've come to know on Twitter, you have been one of the most supportive from the time we first "met." I appreciate very much that you've allowed me into your life, and that our friendship has evolved far beyond 140 characters.

    In terms of gifts, you have already given me the one that matters most! But I, too, look forward to meeting you IRL, and know it is destined to happen!

    Thank you for your continuing support and for taking the time to read and offer your thoughts. It means a lot to me.

    Love, Terri

    PS. I'm glad you liked the New Yorker cartoon. When I first saw it many years ago, I clipped it out and tacked it onto my bulletin board :-) The original is long gone, but I was happy to find it existed "out there" on the web.

  23. Awesome Post Terri!

    I absolutely love reading your post and the interactive comments.

    I love getting to know you as a person and sense that the digital barrier is becoming less able to impede that process.

    Your choices to make your digital connections as real as possible leading to real friendships are a wonderful example of how Social Media Tools can be used to enhance our lives.

    Your engaging and interactive way of being is attracting engaging and interactive people to you regardless of the venue where you initiate, nurture, and develop the relationships.

    Terri you are a Sansei Relationship Sensei!

    Thank You!

  24. Dear Daniel,

    First let me say thank you for reading this post. With so many things competing for your attention, I'm honored you took the time.

    Second, thank you for your comments. I feel the same way about you. When we had a long Skype conversation one evening and you were trying to help me, I could see more of the person behind the avatar and found you to be thoughtful and generous.

    I'm looking forward to having our friendship continue to grow and evolve, and appreciate all the kindnesses you've extended to me. You're truly one of the people who make Twitter a wonderful place, and I'm glad to be alive in this moment in time where it's possible to make friends with people you would have never otherwise been able to meet.

    Wishing you all the best in the days ahead.

    Warm hugs, Terri

  25. Dear Terri,

    As you know your insightful post initiated a hurried meeting on a street corner in Seattle. Two twitter acquaintances, from completely opposite ends of the world, met and exchanged warm greetings. Those two people saying hurried hello's were you and me.

    The thread of randomness sews this anecdote together. The random following of an interesting tweet, the co-incidence of a South African visiting USA, the random spotting of the link to your post when I was about to board a plane! My quick spur-of-the-moment thought that suggested I'd be in the same city and why don't we connect face to face. It was great to meet you and make this random story one worth telling!

  26. Dear Stacey,

    You've been in my mind often since that day we met by the Hillclimb at the Public Market.

    Our connection was so completely random that it almost felt as though it wasn't random at all. Of the millions of tweets posted each day, the chance that you would see the link to this blog post seems extremely unlikely, and that you would take the time to read it, more unlikely still.

    It was a heartwarming moment to exchange hugs and marvel at serendipity. Hearing you talk about how your Story Scarves project evolved and eventually led you to the states has inspired me to re-evaluate where I put my spare time and energy. I think you're quite an amazing person!

    Meeting you is the most miraculous Twitter-related event I've experienced to date. I'm looking forward to growing our friendship and thank you for making the effort to connect during your stay here.

    Warm hugs,


  27. Loved this post Terri and I hope to meet you in person one day too!

    My BFF and I have been friends for 25 years--almost our whole lives--and our friendship survived for more than a decade apart when we lived on two different continents. Love the fact that you celebrate birthdays with so much life too! I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one who did that these days...

    All my best,


  28. Anonymous2:50 AM

    Dear Hayya,

    How wonderful to have such a long friendship with your BFF. Relationships than can withstand a span of space and time are rare and are to be treasured.

    It's great to celebrate birthdays! It means we are still here! :-)

    I'm looking forward to getting better acquainted. In the meantime, many thanks for reading and commenting!

    Warm regards, Terri

  29. Anonymous11:59 AM

    Hi Terri,

    Please forward this link to Glen Iwasaki back in SoCal days.


    Rob Yamamoto

    1. Hey, Rob,

      Wow, how fun! I wonder if you were helping someone with G's recent birthday, because I saw a few of the images in really cool book he was given.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!



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i'm a graphic designer who loves words. - terri nakamura