Wednesday, February 22, 2012

F is for Friend

A friend indeed is what we need. Or, something like that. We humans, being social animals, have a need for friends. But what's a friend?

I read a definition that said a friend was “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.” That leaves out the “my spouse/parent/sibling/child is my best friend” people—and we won’t even get into “friends with benefits.”

But how well do we have to know people before we can consider them friends? And what does “know” mean?

Consider this: In 2009, Facebook said* that the average user had 120 “friends”. But Facebook users tend to have a much smaller number of people with whom they interact the most. Apparently, this includes people the user knows in real life.

And that’s at the heart of my question: These days, thanks to the Internet, we may interact with a lot of people we’ve never met in real life, yet they’re people we know quite a bit about, we may chat with them online or through a service like Skype, we trade emails—all of which we might do with people we know “in real life”. So, are these people any less a friend than people we’ve actually met person-to-person?

Personally, I don’t think so. The “bond of mutual affection” can be as strong with someone we’ve never met as it is with someone we see often. Friendship, in my opinion, is a lot like its more boisterous cousin, romantic love, in that one can never dictate where the heart leads. And why should we?

Years ago, when I first started blogging and podcasting, my partner Nigel used to jokingly refer to my “eFriends” (though these days “iFriends” might be more appropriate). I’ve played around with those and similar terms (“blogging buddy” is a current favourite, merely because of the alliteration), but the reality for me is that a friend is a friend.

So, I think that these “online friends”, as I’ve also called them, can be as close or casual, and the friendship as meaningful or superficial, as any we might have “in real life”. I think it’s kind of nice to be able to have friends all over the world. Kind of makes this planet a friendlier place.

* * * * *

The video above is James Taylor in 1971, singing his number one hit, “You’ve Got A Friend,” written by his friend, Carole King, who included it on her famous Tapestry album that same year. A third 1971 version was recorded by Dusty Springfield, but it wasn’t released until after her death.

Then, of course, there were those other Friends many of us watched from 1994 to 2004.

Do you think online friends can be real friends?


Roger Owen Green said...

Yes. For example, Arthur@AmeriNZ.

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Joy said...

The Marline Dietrich quote was that "friends are those that you can call up at 4 am". Guess with worldwide friends its always 4 am somewhere:-)
Joy - ABC Team

ChrisJ said...

Yes, I do, but with caution. I have a good many 'blogging buddies' (I like that phrase!)that I count as friends. It usually starts out with things we both have in common, and then regularly visiting and commenting. I say 'with caution' because sadly today there are some who would wish you harm. So I usually pray for wisdom and discernment and I would never give evil for evil. Friendship is good.

Angela said...

I have so many degrees of online friends, ranging from people I only know via the internet but have known for at least a decade and therefore can't help feel a bit close to them, to people I met online that I've met once or twice and maybe only continue to talk to via the internet (usually due my expat-ing), to people I met online who I see at least once a week (because I expat-ed to Wellington, NZ, and it's hard NOT to see people here ;D).

I tend to see people I've met at least a few times in person as closer to me than internet-only people, but it's definitely something interesting to explore on a sociological level. :)