facebook: give me my friends back

friend

1. A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.

2. A person with whom one is allied in a struggle or cause.

3. One who supports and sympathizes.

4. A contact associated with a social networking website.

 

I’ve started to worry that the term friendship is losing its meaning. In light of the above definition, society’s evolving understanding of the word certainly raises a few concerns. Undeniably, what it means to be a friend is slowly being compromised, so that the phrase is no longer reserved for those with whom we feel strong bonds and meaningful connections. Indeed, when considered as a verb (I’ll friend you on Facebook), the value of friendship depreciates and the benefits of being and having friends are significantly weakened.

According to a study by Professor Robin Dunbar, an individual can connect with a maximum of one hundred and fifty people. Of those, the ones with whom we enjoy active friendships are fewer still. As reported by extensive studies, maintaining genuine friendship depends primarily on actually doing stuff together. It’s been established that, with the exception of a very few close and long term relationships, if you don’t physically interact with a pal within a six month period, they will become a distant friend, and from this point it’s only a matter of time before they gradually become nothing more than a person you once knew. This is because friendship is fostered and concreted through three acts: watching the way in which others respond to what you say, the sound of shared laughter, and physical contact.

After reading Professor Dunbar’s study, I thought about the ways in which I conduct my friendships. To my shame, I recognised that in most scenarios, I am not an active friend. Generally I wait for my friends to phone me for a chat, invite me for dinner, arrive on my doorstep for a walk. In a moment of dawning it hit me that if I want to keep my friends, especially now that I’ve moved away, I’m going to have to make an effort to maintain those relationships. Sadly, due to a bad track record, I have many mates who are very barely hanging on to our tattered ties.

This negligence did not happen on its own. My becoming a lazy friend directly correlates with the rise of social networking. When I signed up for Facebook, seeing friends’ statuses and pictures in my newsfeed created for me the illusion of being connected to them. I truly believed that I was interacting when in actual fact, Facebook was enabling me to be a voyeur of lives with which I was growing increasingly uninvolved. In next to no time I developed the habit of writing on their wall when I was thinking about them, rather than organising for us to spend quality time together. Meanwhile, I was growing more and more isolated. I’m sure I can speak for many when I say that, thanks to social media, in the space of a few years I devolved from a kid who would fluidly reach for the landline when I wanted to contact someone, into an anxious creature who’s more comfortable sitting at my pc and offering throwaway lines to the inter webs than pursuing face to face contact.

This revelation goes a long way in explaining why I’ve been feeling lonely of late; I have friends, but I’m not availing myself of their services. So the other night when I began feeling a shade of blue, I did something I rarely do; I phoned a couple of my mates from home. You know what? Suddenly I felt loads better. What’s more, I didn’t feel the need to write an arbitrary and obstructive status on Facebook alluding to my state of melancholy. For the first time in a long while I let my friends help to fix me. The effect was instant and two fold; I felt better in myself and closer to the darling people who had happily picked me up.

So I’ve made myself a promise; I am going to be a better friend. I am going to use my voice, rather than social media, when I feel like speaking with my buddies. I am going to play an active role, so as to make my friendships more meaningful. Because my mates are excellent. And I intend to keep them.

 

Have you noticed social media affecting your friendships? What do you do to keep it real when it’s so simple to be passive?

 

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18 thoughts on “facebook: give me my friends back

  1. Without social media I would have very few friends. Parenting beliefs make me an outcast among local moms who might be my friends. I still go to play groups so my children can play but these women, for the most part, are not my friends, just acquaintances.

    Social sites have connected me with people who have similar interests and beliefs as I do. I am able to “hang out” with them virtually, though I am dying for being able to just actually hang out with actual people it just isn’t going to happen. So I have made connections in other ways that are not traditional.

    It is very weird to have people I call friends that I have never met. Heck I have avery good friend who I text with daily and talk to on Facebook but we have not met and we have never talked on the phone yet, but I still consider her one of my very best friends.

    On the other hand I have been able to meet in person a few of my friends I have met through social websites. I would have never met these people any other way and though they live hundreds of miles away we are just long distance friends. I figure that eventually I will get the opportunity to meet the ones who are most important to me and then instead of saying my friends live in my computer I can just say I have a lot of long distance friendships.

    • The internet and social networking have undeniable benefits in terms of networking and meeting like minded folk. I’m simply citing the studies when I say that when possible, face to face contact is still the best way of fostering and concreting relationships. Though I’m sure there are always exceptions.

      • Oh I understand that. I would prefer face to face communication its just not an option really. I am just incredibly glad that I am not stuck at home by myself all the time with only children to talk to.

  2. I’ve written about this too, and agree with much of what you say here. On the flip side, FB has opened some doors for me as well. I’ve connected on line with some people who, for a variety of reasons, I hadn’t connected with previously. This led to us making plans and then moving forward. For my high school reunion last year, I’ve said often, that FB got the reunion going before any of us arrived in town. We caught up on each others’ lives, families, etc and forged new ties that we might have missed if we’d just done it face to face. Old cliques fell away, as we all had a starting place that we’d established on line.

    I’m glad you are reaching out to friends in real time… it’s a much better way to build bonds and stay in touch. That said, I’m glad I met you here! 🙂

    • You’re right; Facebook has been an especially helpful resource after having moved so far away. It’s just that for people like me, it’s easy to get lazy and let FB carry your friendships. But I definitely agree; had it not been for the inter webs, I would never have formed ties with your sweet self. x

  3. In 2011 I would have had zero contact with the outside world, other than my son, were it not for social media. This year it was my goal to be braver and stop outside and have visual friends as well as vertual one. I’m getting there, slowly. So instead of social media isolating me, it actually opened me up.

  4. I think it’s great that you’ve had the awareness to realise this, and now making an effort to change it. This was a really interesting post to read too and got me thinking.. so thanks 🙂

    I’m a bit mixed about it all. Sometimes (when I’m not doing so great & haven’t got much to give) it’s all (if at all) I can manage, so a relief to have a means of connection that I can still manage. Having said that, maybe it perpetuates the cycle of isolation – something safe and comfortable and doesn’t challenge me enough to go out and actively engage, knocking isolation on the head.

    Like you, I haven’t been very good at initialising and maintaining relationships. Not because I don’t want to but for a number of other reasons such as fear of rejection/abandonment and just generally urges to withdraw and isolate. over the years, it accumulates and it’s hard to realise how many people have just slipped away because of it so I’m really trying to make more of an effort – put myself out there and allow myself to be more vulnerable, otherwise I know I’m just going to be lonely forever!

    Sounds like you have great friends 🙂

    • I think we might be quite similar. For myself, I like the ease of being able to turn to FB, because I can be quite an anxious person when it comes to social interaction. Especially with people who I don’t know well. But that said, previous to the prevalence of social media, I managed quite well. I think there’s some truth in what you said about FB giving people prone to nervous dispositions an easy out. It’s so easy not to push ourselves, so often we don’t. But there is one thing I have learned to be true: when I do pick up the phone or pop over to see a mate, I’m always so glad I did, and struck by how easily I could have simply stayed at home and missed out on that interaction. I need to be a bit tougher with myself more often! : )

  5. Absolutely agree, and quit Facebook cold turkey because of it a month ago. Had more real communication with my friends in that one month than I’ve had in the four years I was on Facebook combined. Even the ones 2500 miles away.

    • In this busy life, it can be so easy to forget. I have slackened even since writing this post. Your comment has just pulled me back into line. : )

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