There’s been much debate over the last couple of years as to whether or not people that you meet on the internet can be considered friends in the same way that you hang out with people in person. Some would say that a friend has to be someone you see in person and can talk with on a regular basis, while others would say that a friend includes those you meet online through social sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The following article, though different from usual posts, is my Two Cents on the subject…
What is a Friend?
Years ago, my wife told me that having no friends was not healthy. At the time, I was not on Facebook and the only people I “socialized” with were from my local congregation. So when she asked me if I had any friends, I immediately thought of those at my church. But before I could say anything, she informed me that people from church didn’t count. Grant it at the time, I only saw them twice a week during services and bible studies, but I still thought of them as friends. Since I didn’t socialize with them outside of the church building, I couldn’t consider them friends. I did socialize with them before and after services, but I guess that’s not enough for my wife to be satisfied with that answer. I mean I talk about other thing besides the bible and religion, but still, it’s not enough…I guess.
As I became more active online, I found all sorts of different people through social media who have similar interests to me. I considered them friends because I interacted with them everyday. But, does that really constitute a friendship? To begin, let’s look at the definition of the word, ‘Friend’.
FRIEND (Webster’s Dictionary)
1. a: one attached to another by affection or esteem
2 a: one that is not hostile
3 one that favors or promotes something (as a charity)
4 a favored companion
Just by these definitions, there’s no mention of needing physical contact or seeing someone in person to consider them a friend. Of course, with today’s technology, one might use the excuse that you have to be able to Skype them in order to consider them a friend. There’s no mention of this in the definition so, again, that is invalid.
When I first joined NaNoWriMo in October of 2005, this was my first official appearance in the world of social media. I signed up, posted my information about the novel I would write, then went looking for people of similar interests based on the genre I was writing. By the time NaNo was over in December, I had made a handful of “friends”. I put the word in quotes because of those people, I am still friends with two of them today, 3 if you count the friend who introduced me to the site in the first place. Yes, all three are writers, but since getting on Facebook in 2009, I’ve connected with them and we talk about everything else in addition to writing; family, jobs, books, TV shows, etc.
When I went to official kickoff gathering for NaNo in 2008, I was a wallflower who kept to himself. It seemed that all of the others in this group were old friends and so I felt like I was intruding. I talked with one of the coordinators of the group, but didn’t really have to say. Later in the month, I went to one of the write-ins and befriended a fellow author, he and I met later at a coffee shop and talked writing. Again, I was never really comfortable with any of them to consider them a friend. The ones I wanted to hang out with were those who participated in the Forum boards of the NaNoWriMo site, especially the RPG games that were created. None of those from my State’s region were ever in these forums, one even mentioned that he specifically avoids all of them.
When I got on Facebook, I went looking for old friends from my high schools, some twenty-plus years hence. I’ve hooked up with a few and still consider them friends even though we live in other parts of the country. I even found a former coworker from my TV days and we still chat occasionally online.
In between, I’ve found people who have similar interests as me: music, books, humor, religion, etc. Just because I don’t see most of these people in person, does not mean I can’t consider them as a friend. Most of them I prefer to people that I do see in person.
Introverts and Wallflowers Unite!!
The advantage of the internet is to give people, like myself, the courage to speak to others without the fear of awkward situations of being in a crowded room. I’m don’t do parties, including my own.
A perfect example is my own high school graduation party in 1985 (yes, I’m that old). The party was two hours long, hosted by my parents and was visited by family, friends, classmates, and one teacher. During the majority of that party, in which I was the
main attraction honored guest, I stood off to one side of my backyard with my best friend and his brother and just talked. I really didn’t want to “mingle” with the others even though I knew all of them, including my extended family. It’s not that I didn’t like any of them, I just didn’t like being the center of attention, even though that was the purpose of everyone being there in the first place. Even at my own wedding reception I didn’t want to mingle because I wasn’t comfortable with crowds. That, and I had severe back pain which nearly rendered me useless. Such is the peril of working in retail.
When I’m online with others through Facebook, I can be more myself as no one can see behind the words that are typed on the screen. I can even show up in my pajamas if I wanted to as no one can see me.
I joined Twitter in May, 2013 and it was more of the same as far as meeting people. My selection of people that I follow are mostly fellow writers, though some I follow because we share similar interests in TV shows. I can even follow celebrities over there as they prefer the limitation of 140 characters compared to Facebook. Now, I’m not saying that I’m friends with celebrities, as they don’t follow me back, but I feel more comfortable in that situation compared to going up to them at a party or Meet-N-Greet and talking to them.
When the family went to the Wrestlemania Axxess event in 2010, I got to meet a bunch of my favorite Pro-wrestlers and even pose for pictures. Two of the photos you can tell I wasn’t really comfortable in as, 1)They were WWE Divas and 2)Even though I could have put my arm around them, for the photo, I just didn’t feel right in doing so. Not just because I was married, but I wasn’t keen on human contact in that atmosphere. I hope that makes sense.
21st Century Friends
When I was growing up in the 70s, in the Midwest, my friends were those I hung out with all day everyday, and doing things together. Being that the neighbor kids across the street were both girls, and having a sister, I learned to play Ken with Barbie Dolls, plus play with stuffed animals. It didn’t matter to me because they were friends and we all got along with each other.
Today, friends can be anyone who looks forward to seeing your presence everyday. Whether it’s being at work, at church, or online. You don’t have to see them in person to consider them a friend, but that they are someone you could share with what’s going on in your own life and they feel that they can do the same with you.
So what’s your take on the this debate? Do you feel the need to have contact with people in person to consider them a friend, or are you of the belief that those online count just as much? Share your comments!