Have you ever wondered what would happen if you just stopped trying? What do you think would happen if tomorrow you stopped calling/texting/messaging all your friends and only spoke to those that called/texted/messaged you first? And what if you did all this without first telling anyone you were going to do it? I’d wager, that for the vast majority of us in the here and now, very few in our circle of “friends” would notice we weren’t there, certainly not for an extended period of time. It’s my contention that this is due in no small part to the contemporary idea of friendship as portrayed by social media/networks such as facebook, myspace, twitter, etc. With ease of communication comes a great sense of complacency. Honestly now, how many of your 231 or 1074 “friends” have you seen in the last week or two? How many have you spoken to via phone or text? How many even have your number and you theirs?
When you pare things down like that, you, as with most non famous/rich people I’m sure, would probably arrive at a very small group indeed. Of course there is nothing remotely wrong with this, it has been this way probably for time immemorial. As social creatures we naturally aggregate into self segregating groups, some smaller, some larger depending on a number of factors. These very specific small groups of people are what we have, perhaps traditionally, always considered our friends. It’s these people who, if we were living in the 18th century we’d probably be writing letters to, they’re the ones for whom we’ve always bridged that gap of interminable distance. In terms of these friendships then, facebook and other social media merely makes it easier for us to stay in touch, something for which it is to be praised. It might also be suggested that it allows for one to rekindle lost/missed friendships or ones where perhaps there was not as much impetus as with some others. However, I feel that there may be a price paid for such connectivity, one that may outweigh its benefits, namely the devaluing of the idea of friendship.
My generation is the first to grow up in the internet age, it was upon our backs that it was built, we are the creators of the social network. It is also we that may be the first to experience and truly understand the pitfalls of our creation. In an era where the world around us travels at an unbelievable rate, it becomes more difficult to keep up day by day. Its times just like this for which we have friends, not to fix our problems but to provide the support, that shoulder, that safe place where you can stop and catch your breath before entering back into the fray. Unfortunately, it appears that the mentality of many has been warped with the advent of the social network and this has deanchored what it is to be a friend leaving it floating in the ether. There are those who’s conception of friendship begins and ends with a brief chat, a message or a wall post. Some may go a bit further perhaps going so far as a text exchange/phone call or perhaps even a very occasional group hang out. Such people in other circumstances would more than likely be described as drinking buddies or fair weather friends but to confuse them with actual friends in the past would’ve been silly. But this IS friendship for so many people nowadays where to me, these things are merely the first stage in the construction of something greater, or at least it should be.
Friendly acquaintances compose the vast majority of my “friends” on facebook/myspace and I’m happy to know most if not all of them. It’s good to keep in touch with people, to exchange ideas or network professionally but only a small percentage of people on the social network truly qualify as full fledged friends, at least for me. This is no slight against those who haven’t reached the pinnacle of friendship with me, indeed for me good friendships can begin here but they can only flourish with real interaction. People calling someone they know only through facebook or other social network a friend I can handle, what worries me most though is how the thinking surrounding what it is to be a friend appears to be shifting. Real friends, people who you have a genuine connection with are few and far between. Sure there are billions of people on this planet and you can always find more friends, but never will any friendship be quite the same as another.
I fear that social networks may give a false comfort to some people saying that “oh because you had a fight or disagreement with this friend you can lose them, you have 300 more to choose from!” is a terrible mentality to have. Such a mentality has made it easy for people to avoid confrontation, to avoid having to deal with difficult things in friendships and relationships allowing for the loss of countless friends some of whom may have been life long in a different time. Working things out between two people can serve to strengthen the bond they share but the friendship or relationship has to be given the chance to do so. Rather than running from confrontation or difficulties as the social networks might encourage you to do one should embrace the opportunity to strengthen the ties between two people. To be sure it won’t always be an easy thing to do but it is a necessary thing to do if you wish to have true friendship with someone. If however you’re unwilling to do the difficult thing you may, in the end, find yourself surrounded by fair weather friends just when you need a real friend the most.
I wish I had an easy answer to fix this, to stop this shifting mentality but I don’t. At the very least though I have to put it out there, bring attention to it and start a conversation. Social networks and media have many brilliant uses that is not disputed but is this a possible price worth paying? I don’t know. It has always been poor form to end a piece with a quote, however if you’ll permit me this one time, I’d like to end with a rather fitting quote from a Baz Luhrmann song:
“Understand that friends come and go,but for the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.”