This is an essay on the meaning of the word “friend.” It’s not going to be about technology (but it is), it’s not specifically about me (but it is), and it’s not meant to sound whiny or pathetic (but it does.)
I’ve been on Twitter for years. Like 4 years. And I’ve got over 2,000 people following me. Two Thousand People. That’s more than many small towns.
I’ve been on Facebook, LinkedIn, TripIt, Plaxo, Live Spaces, Google Whatevertheycallit, FourSquare, and just about every other social network for years as well. (Except for MySpace. That place just always seemed scummy to me.) And I’ve got thousands of contacts on those places. Some people I see regularly, some I’ve never met in person. But we’re digitally connected in such a way that I have passing knowledge of their interests, their families, their hobbies, and more specifically, “the stuff that’s easy to share.”
I’m not tooting any horns here, I promise. I’m writing about what it means to have friends. I have this vast wealth of people circled around me at all times, and to be honest, I’ve never felt more alone. Don’t get me wrong. I have a wonderful family, and I socialize relatively often (compared to an agoraphobic, for example). Perhaps I’m just affected by the abundance of television shows that feature three or four couples that do EVERYTHING together. The women are the best of friends. The guys seem to have known each other since they were in elementary school. (I’m looking at you, Perfect Couples, Better With You, Cougar Town, Happy Endings, The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Traffic Light, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and my new favorite, The League.) And every day, they have some new amazing (yet funny) adventure. Together.
I. Want. That.
(No, I’m not so deluded as to think that television is anything like real life. But relationships are relationships, plain and simple.)
Perhaps it’s also because I have “the luxury” of working from home. Working from home certainly has its benefits, but there are also consequences. Access to a refrigerator full of the food you love isn’t exactly a blessing. At least not for my waistline. Sitting silently in an office by yourself every day only seems good because you hate the guy you share a cube with. I truly miss the watercooler conversations, as empty as they may have seemed at the time. They were connections, and as social networking has shown us, connections are gold.
For every new “friend” I make on Facebook, however, I feel like “friendship” has lost its luster. I DO want to know about your kids, your latest vacation, and your new found love for the game of golf, but I want to know it because we sat in a sportsbar and watched our favorite team get slaughtered. Again. We sat for hours and talked about “stuff.” Conversations twisted and turned, contained humorous interjections, and perhaps even had an inside joke or two. Facebook and Twitter are missing that one key component to a REAL friendship, and that’s shared experiences.
Do me a favor…think of your best friend from high school or college. Now think of an outrageous story that happened to the two of you. You have that story because you did things TOGETHER. We don’t do things together on the internet. Sure, we collaborate, or chat, or reply to email, or even go so far as to play World of Warcraft (or some other game, I suppose), but I still contend that you’re not really doing that “together.” Never have I told someone about “this hilarious email chain I’ve been a part of”. I’ve never said “remember when I ousted you as the Mayor of Panera?” These trivial factoids and photos that we share on the internet do not strong bonds make.
So, if I seem overly forward the next time we talk, and invite you to grab a beer (even though we may have never hung out before), it’s because I’m changing my game. On the flipside, if I DON’T do these things, don’t take it personally. In fact, call me out on it. I love people, and getting to know ANYONE is better than sitting in front of this computer for one more evening. There’s one thing my mother told me when I was young that has always stuck with me, and it’s only gotten truer with time:
“If you want to do things with your friends, you’re going to have to call them. Sitting home and waiting for an invitation is NEVER going to happen.”
I’ve been waiting on social networks, and I’ve realized that friendships aren’t made there. They’re observed.