Perhaps because we harbor fears of being different there is something deeply gratifying in finding someone whose thoughts align with our own. I recently found someone like that, an author using the name P J Fox. For this I thank David Grigger, who happened to mention @PJFoxWrites on Twitter. Among the many interesting posts on her blog is one about Facebook Friendships, you should pop over and read it.
Since friendship is important to me I have written about it before, indeed I’ve even written a poem about what friendship means to me, which I’m fairly sure is different to what friendship means to you.
Friendship is so much more than an alert out of nowhere that someone now “likes you”, or likes what you’ve just said. Yet that seems to be what social media sites such as Facebook attempt to reduce this rare and special thing called friendship to.
I can see that Facebook works for certain people. For example, my wife uses it to keep in touch with some of her family and a few of her friends. Note my choice of words, “some of her family and a few of her friends” – she specifically doesn’t accept friend requests from anyone who happens along. What my wife doesn’t use Facebook for is a marketing platform to reach a wide audience of people who, as easily as a mouse-click, can like her or the things she has to say.
Friendship is so much more than allegedly agreeing with a single random thought. Friendship is so much more than the explicit expectation you will reciprocate for “likes” from someone you don’t know and will probably never meet by “liking” something they have to say in return for them liking something you said. Friendship doesn’t happen in a mouse-click, it just doesn’t. Friendship takes something the social media effectively steals from us, while simultaneously fooling us into think it is granting us. Friendship takes time.
An attraction of social media, and I think this extends to most of social media platforms, not just Facebook, is that it tricks us into thinking, “I can say something personal to all my friends at the same time!” Obviously, this is an enormous time saving. Just think how much time it would take to call each of our friends and say the line we can so easily post to social media.
There are a couple of fundamental problems with this premise.
First, an issue that ardent users of social media seem to have completely forgotten… Something you shout to the world is in no way “personal”.
Equally important, if you were to actually call each of your friends and tell them exactly the same thing… Well you would be extremely insincere, indeed if two of your friends discovered you’d told them precisely what you’d already told all your other friends they might even consider you to be shallow. Would they be wrong?
Which brings me back to the most essential element of friendship. Friendship is personal.
There simply isn’t a quick and easy path to friendship. Friendship takes time, energy, synergy, and commitment to build. Friendship is one-on-one – it is not one on many. Even in the smallest group of close friends, there are people who simply would not associate with each other if it weren’t for their real friends in the group.
And that is OKAY!
We are all individuals, we are all unique, and we should all accept that friendship is something incredibly special that we invariably share with a single, unique individual. Every friendship we have is as unique as the person with whom we share it.
If, as so many of us are, you’re entwined in social media don’t mistake what can barely be termed an acquaintance for a friend. There is an enormous difference between the deeply satisfying joy and contentment actual conversation with your true friends brings, and the momentary, yet horribly addictive little surge of pleasure an alert informing you someone has “interacted” with you on social media brings.
Perhaps that leads us to another significant difference between social media acquaintanceships, and real friendships.
The stimulus of social media is addictive. All those innumerable little alerts social media constantly feeds our appetite for interaction mislead us into thinking people we will never know actually care about us. Not only do they not care, but us expecting someone we’ve never had a one-on-one conversation with to care is unrealistic in the extreme.
Juxtaposed to social media’s addictive little “someone cares” alerts, along with its urgent requirement for a response in order to show we care back, is real friendship. Real friendship is not addictive. Real friendship places no demands on you in its regard. Real friendship is not established in a single mouse-click, and it is not so easily broken as with another. Once real friendship is established, time’s passage ceases to matter. Literally years can pass between conversations with your real friends, yet you can pick up precisely where you left off so many years ago.
How much time can pass between “interactions” in social media? Hours? Days is pushing it. And as for weeks… well the prevailing wind of social media has completely changed by then, and “Sorry mate, but who are you again, and more important, what can you do for me?” will likely be the response you get.
Now please don’t think I’m saying true friendships cannot form on social media. I am not. However I am saying that regardless of where friendships form they require the same stimulus to growth and development. Personal interaction, commitment, understanding, and most especially time.
How many true friends do you actually have, versus how many acquaintances you have on social media?
If you’re on social media at all, I know the second number is greater than the first. Often vastly greater.
Now allow me to pose a question. Which number is more important to you? If you answer honestly, after anything more than superficial consideration of the question, you might learn something about yourself.
I know I have, and furthermore I don’t think I particularly like what I just learnt.