For introverts, and those of us who can’t be arsed to go out and socialise, Facebook changed our lives. Suddenly, we could become friends with people on different continents, share journeys (nail art challenges, say) and unhappinesses with people who understood what we were going through. Facebook opened the door to the world.
But for some people, mainly those who have 800 friends on their Facebook wall, the validity of these friendships was challenged – how can you be friends with someone you’ve never met? Well, how can you be friends with 800 people – right back atcha …
CAN you be friends with someone you’ve never met? Well I think so. Although you can’t hug, or physically hang out together, you can do that most important thing – communicate. You can share your dreams, your hopes, your pains, your agonies, and just like a physical friend, Facebook friend can counsel you, offer you support, advice, challenge you, let you rant … what’s not true friendship about that?
And which of us who were born in the 70s didn’t have penpals when we were at school? Which of us weren’t encouraged to expand our language and social skills with “Annika from Hamburg”, and in so doing find out what made us similar, rather than different? Wouldn’t that be a lovely lesson for the world to return to.
So, my Facebook friends. I’m going to be honest, I don’t have many real life friends. Never have. I have prefer 1 or 2 people than a posse or a squad, and I won’t play passive-aggressive games, so if you stop real-life communicating with me, I won’t enter your game and chase you. Yeh, those 1 or 2 friends can shrink pretty quick.
And yet I have lots of people I would call my Facebook friends. Not just people for whom I’ve clicked “add friend”, but people who I believe I have a relationship with. Plenty of people who know a LOT about me, and who I reveal myself to in a way that I don’t with “real life” people. There are also maybe 1 or 2 Facebook friends who know me better than anyone else. So does the fact I’ve never met them diminish that?
This post happened because a week ago, on my Facebook feed, I learnt of the death of a Facebook friend, someone of whom I thought very fondly. I had never met him – we had one friend in common – but his warped sense of humour, which he shared daily in his pithy status updates, kept me a friend, and through his humour I began to think warmly of him. I felt a connection. Nothing romantic, I stress, but it shows how consistently displaying a positive aspect of your persona – in this case, a sense of humour – can break down barriers and encourage a feeling of having things in common.
So he died, and I found myself in tears – firstly in shock at the death of a friend – and then at the outpouring of anecdotes and grief from those who HAD known him. And apparently in real life he was even more amazing – inspirational even. How many people get a chance to live a life like that?
Would we have got on in real life? I have no idea, and in many ways it’s irrelevant. We were a very small part of each other’s universe, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if Facebook could knit us all together in that blanket of warmth, where each of us is a link to each other, and a found commonality, rather than where we’ve ended up in 2016, hating people we don’t know, just for the colour of their skin, or their religion.
So, let’s circle back to the start. IS a Facebook friend a real friend? Yes. I can talk to them in a way that I can’t talk to other people and they GET ME. And do you know what else, they’re an extension of ourselves. Look at your friends who you only know on Facebook – are any of them a “complete” friend? Someone who you turn to for everything? Probably very few. Or do you have people who you to turn to for one thing, but not another. Do you find yourself sharing yourself in 12 different ways with 12 different people depending on your need? Maybe so.
I love my Facebook friends dearly. Some of them keep me sane in a way that real people don’t – it’s easier to switch them off, for a start! But also, I find Facebook has allowed people to drift in and out of my life when I or they have really needed it. I’ve had real intimacy with some people, and then we’ve ebbed away from each other, still friends, but no longer immediately needing of each other.
And that’s ok. In a world where social media is at risk of tearing down our relationships (phones at the dinner table, no eye contact as we walk down the street), rejoice instead in the ways it’s also enhancing them. How you can share someone’s wedding day from 5,000 miles away, how you can show someone you’ve never met a video of your garden, or you can all post pictures of your planners and share your inner geek / control freak.
All of those things are precious, and they’re real. They may not have physical form, but they create real emotions and laughter and memories. And as long as Bee from Ohio REALLY IS Bee from Ohio and not an AI pretending to be Bee, I’m very good with that, and very grateful 🙂