My father always said that if, at the end of our lives we could honestly say that we had one friend, we would die rich. That the word friend was not one to be used lightly. When I came home from school, and said my new friend this or my new friend that, he’d correct me, telling me that until our relationship had grown into something significant, we were simply acquaintances. Like the bumper sticker reads, “A friends will help you move, a real friend will help you move a body”, we were never to take friendship for granted.
In this age of short tenure employment, neighborhood turnover, and Social Media, does friendship really mean the same thing today as it did in my father’s day? Let’s face it, the days of the gold watch and living next door to the same family for 30 years are the exception in 2010. Families are geographically dispersed, dependent more and more upon the Internet to communicate. Friendships from our youth are being rekindled through Social Media. Some of these so-called friendships fit more closely into the category my father referred to as acquaintance, and would have been better served remaining in the past. But, that’s another story. Facebook has become the new calling card; Skype brings you right into people’s living rooms – and bedrooms; and Twitter has made everyone a cross between Tom Brokaw and Dr. Phil, with a little Joan Rivers thrown in.
At one point, I would have written that Social Media friends are the same as real life ones. The people who have come into my life as a result of social media are fascinating, enriching, and from a wide range of socio-economic levels and geographic regions. I have laughed, learned and commiserated with men and women whose faces I have no way of knowing are really accurately portrayed in their avatars. We’ve debated health care, marriage equality, global warming, you name it. I’ve learned of their illnesses, and felt real emotional distress as I worried waiting for test results. Waited for that tweet with news. Social media has made the world very small.
On more than one occasion people have disappeared. As suddenly as they appeared in my life, they were gone. Once, the Twitter account was suspended without explanation, and since I really had no solid way of knowing if the person I was friends with was who she said she was, there was no way to track her down. When someone’s avatar is a an ethereal image or a cartoon, or even a face, how do we REALLY know it is them? In the case of another friend, the updates just stopped. Nothing. After months of nightly discussions on the most challenging of topics, sharing our love of Pearl Jam, music trivia, all I heard was crickets.
Today, I went to contact a friend, and noticed that she had unfriended me. That I was no longer her ‘friend’ on Facebook. This saddened me a bit because I never wish to be on the outs with anyone. However, at this stage of life I’m not really concerned about popularity either. The big difference here is if we were really friends, by my father’s definition, I would have picked up the phone and called her. In fact, if we were real life friends, she would have called me if there were a problem. That’s what friends do.
Because I travel full time, I’ve had the opportunity to meet dozens of people in real life (IRL) who I had first encountered through social media. There is no question that the ante is raised once we meet, shake hands, hug each other, share a meal, really laugh out loud (LOL) together. The same way I met my husband through Social Media, in this case, Match.com, the guy he was in his profile was great, but the warm, loving man he was (is) in person was so much more.
Yes, social media is a great door opener for meeting people, learning, sharing, rallying causes. But, just as Internet sex doesn’t replace lovemaking, and Zhuzhu’s don’t replace man’s best friend, Internet friends won’t be the ones you call when your car breaks down, they’ll be the ones you tweet about it. And, the picture? This was taken in November 2009 in Dallas, TX when a group of us who had met on Twitter got together for the premier of Men Who Stare at Goats. I had met Mark Hundley @MarkHundley, Jamie Inman @ibeatcancrtwice, Jessica Moore @inspiremedaisy, Scott Whitelaw @lifecruise, and Karen Brown @Toadjumps on Twitter, and the friendship Stewart and I have with these people after meeting in person is much richer than before. There’s just no getting around what happens when two dimensions become three.