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?