In the last few years, something has changed about my understanding of friendships. Before Facebook, I had sort of assumed what a friend was, what friendship meant, and how I myself interacted with friends.
But in a strange way, contrary to a simple idea that Facebook makes me realize the difference between “true” and “false” friends, people I actually know in “real” life vs. people I have barely met or not met at all, my notion of the idea of friendship itself has changed.
For one thing, I have been surprised by how some people I had known a long time came across as very different people on Facebook. I may have been hanging out with them a long time but had never known how they thought, what went on in their heads . When I saw them getting involved in serious discussions that I could actually read, my respect for their ideas increased. In real life, they could have been too extroverted to have had time to talk at length about any one topic, or too shy to talk much at all.
Some people came across as super narcissistic, always posting close-up pictures of themselves in pretty or handsome poses. I may have always suspected that they needed more compliments than others, but their narcissism was never so evident as with those innumerable posts. Some people came across as more shallow than I’d known them in “real” life!
And then there was the jubilation of finding a very old friend after years of separation on Facebook. At first, it seemed like a reunion. But after looking through pictures, infos, the exchange of a few words, these people remained stuck on the walls of our social networking lives, their periodic posts as distant as headlines in a newspaper. The distance created through the gulf of years, of different lifestyles, and aspirations were not to be bridged.
I have wondered sometimes if it was better that we had been left with the fond memories of childhood without our recollections being tarnished by the lack of interest, of the present, from both sides.
On the contrary, people that you’ve only known on a social networking site may seem very real. But they aren’t real because they may appear and disappear at will and there may be whole sections of their lives that you may know nothing about. And yet, because you know how they think about some matters and their interactions with you, they may be more real than even an aunt or a classmate that you only talk about mundane stuff with daily.
Are out notions of reality changing too?
Many people who have moved around the globe are able to take their past friendships along with them in a way it wasn’t possible before. You may have gone to middle-school in Malaysia but may have moved anywhere–the UK, USA, Singapore–but you carry your old classmates with you and have virtual coffee with them.
But are these real friends?
In the last 2-3 years, we have seen a new kind of friendship arise in the world of human relationships. This social networking friendship is different from other kinds of friendships that we have historically seen before–acquaintances, pen friends, neighbours, classmates–what have you. You could only have known a pen friend through what he or she wrote to you himself or herself in their letters. But in the social networking world, there is a social context within which this friendship is sustained or broken, more real than the real world in some ways and yet not real. Am I making sense?
And yet, all these changes that have happened to the idea of friendship are very real. We’ve had to change the concept in our heads and it’s still changing. We are having to deal with it every day.
I wonder if people felt the same way when the postal service came about or people started using the telephone in a large way and distances between friends started getting bridged faster than before. Perhaps we will also settle down soon as a culture to these new and changing ideas of friendships.
What do you think?