Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Defining "friend" in the age of Facebook and smartphones

When I was growing up, a friend was a friend -- and a noun. While you may have referred to someone as your best friend, or a good friend, or an old friend (as opposed to just a friend), there were no Facebook friends, friends with benefits, or frenemies (even though the latter two no doubt existed before those terms were coined). A friend was, well, your friend -- someone you hung out with, in person, who actually looked at you while you spoke instead of typing into a smartphone.

But with the rise of the Internet age and social networking, the concept of friendship has changed -- as has the definition of friend. Indeed type "friend definition" into Google and the first item that pops up is "Verb: Add (someone) to a list of contacts associated with a social networking Web site."

When did friend become a verb and not a person? (That, btw, is a rhetorical question. Though if you are looking for an answer, look no farther than Facebook, or Friendster.)

And why am I prattling on about all this friend stuff anyway?

So glad you asked.

Like so many things of late, it's because of my daughter. (Ah, the joys of parenting.) More specifically, my daughter's wrestling with how a girl she thought was one of her really good friends could repeatedly be so insensitive to her feelings and hurtful, especially on her (my daughter's) birthday.

Which, me being me and her being her, led to a discussion (not the first) of their being many different kinds of friends, or levels of friendship -- and that one of the most difficult parts of growing up was figuring out who your true friends were (love this definition) and who were your frenemies, or people you probably shouldn't be telling your deepest darkest secrets to or counting on for help. (The girl in question is in the latter category.)

But rather than turning this into an essay on friendship (and boring you all to tears) -- I offer up the following two quotes from a wonderful little book titled The Art of Friendship, written by Roger Horchow (whom Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in The Tipping Point) and Sally Horchow (his daughter), which I came across years ago and now keep by my desk.
Friendship is not always easily defined. There is a range of meaningful relationships, and not all of them need to be of the close, call-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the night variety to be worthwhile.

Work friendships, situational friendships, cordial acqaintanceships--the varieties are as plentiful as the people you meet. Each type of friend should be treated with respect and the appropriate level of affection. If you stay open to the possibilities for friendships that do not necessarily conform to the most common expectations, you are likely to engage in some rewarding interactions that you would otherwise miss out on.
So true.

Indeed, while I often complain that too many of my good friends live too far away for us to get together regularly, and that I rarely get to meet new people working at home (and being an introvert and having an unpredictable work schedule that makes it impossible to make or keep dates many times), I am grateful for my many Facebook and blog friends, many of whom I have never met, who post witty comments here and on my Facebook page -- and consistently brighten my day and make me feel not so alone (or lonely) in this big, scary, confusing world. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

As a hermit, I love FB! I get to hang with mu buds, but not actually move from my sofa.

Poor J-THREE-O, she has to figure out who is worth what, and who is who. I have put my time in and know who I can trust and what type of friend they are. No one else need apply-FULL UP!!!

rosamaria said...

I feel your pain. 7th and 8th grades are such a struggle for these girls. When I went through it the first time around with my now 10th grader, I remember more than one mom telling me that it'll be fine, not to worry, that it'll be all over by 9th grade and my answer was: yeah sure, easy for you to say since your daughter is on the other side of 9th grade. But sure enough, she got to the other side and it's been much smoother on the friendship front. Now we have round 2 with child #2.
I too love my facebook friends, like you, who make me smile and cry, and who I would otherwise never "see".

J. said...

@rosamaria, I too have heard it gets easier in high school -- at least on the friend front.

@Anonymous, you are very funny -- and there's a lot of truth in what you say.

It also reminds me of two related issues: dealing with conditional friends (you know, those people who only seem to call or want to get together with you when they want something) and how to un-friend someone in the real (as opposed to virtual) world -- or convey that while you like her/him, you don't want to be best friends (or even close friends). Both very tough issues for a 13-year-old -- or a thirty- or fortysomething! -- to deal with.

If any of you know of an easy way to deal with those issues, let me know!

Anonymous said...

I have the friends are food theory

Some people are meat and potatoes-highest trust level (you)

Some people are the side salad-good for you but just not around as often-can be upgraded to a meal

Some people are desert-people I play with but don’t ‘trust’ just enjoy them

Dave S. said...

Well, there's the verb "befriend" but the extra syllable makes it all clunky and stuff.

As the parent of an eight-year-old girl I am terrified that there is only five years between now and when this crap hits the fan for her. We already have lots of experience with the three-girl dynamic (i.e. one gets excluded on a rotating basis) but I suspect this is just a drop in the bucket.