How many friends do you have? Two, six, thirty? Or perhaps, like one of my fourteen year old pupils, you have 762. Really? The word friend and its meaning is becoming debased and devalued, thanks to social media which, as far as I can tell was set up by the socially inept and is now creating social ineptitude on a global scale. A recent BBC news item stated that in a survey of twelve to eighteen year olds, twenty-five per cent of them felt more comfortable dealing with ‘friends’ via a screen or on their phones than face to face.
Friendship as we know it is a dying art. Friendships these days are conducted through the medium of Facebook or Twitter on whichever small screen is to hand. Popularity is measured by how many people like whatever crashingly boring news you’ve just posted on your page, be it the mundane making of beds, washing the family laundry or having a night out at the 02 to see Michael Buble. Your page or thread of inane consciousness instantly means something to somebody, desperate for you to ‘like’ them back. These people immediately become your friends. All it takes is a little thumbs up logo. It’s not unusual these days to have hundreds of friends: Stephen Fry, for instance, has a Twitter following of messianic proportions (now there’s a thought. If Twitter had been around two thousand or so years ago maybe the New Testament would have panned out differently) – but how many of these buddies would drop everything on a freezing cold morning to come round and help him jump start his car? How many of them would bake you bread in return for dropping their offspring at school? How many of these push-a-button-quick friends would you invite to your wedding or significant birthday? How many of them would you go on holiday with?
I think I have quite a lot of friends, as it goes. Probably between ten and twenty. There are different groups of them – old friends, tennis friends, writing friends, work friends, book-reading friends and friends I made when Son was small. Some of these friendship groups overlap but they all have one thing in common. They are real. I know what these people look like, know how they think, what’s likely to upset them, what will make them laugh and which ones I can call on for advice or a trip down memory lane. I know when their birthdays are, how old they are and whether they are sensitive to my knowing. They know all this about me. Most of them know some of my family; I know, or know of, their nearest and dearest. I might know some of their deepest darkest secrets, their hopes and dreams, the successes and failures they’ve made and they will know mine. They are the people I share celebrations with, remember to send cards to and phone when it’s time to get together. We meet, we interact, we pick up where we left off. Face to face. As friends do.
The internet is a powerful tool. Of course I can see the potential of Facebook and Twitter in a commercial sense. If I had something to sell or I wanted to raise money or awareness about something then it would be foolish not to sign up, even though it irks me to have to sponsor somebody through their online giving page. All big businesses now use Facebook (it’s easy PR – back in the day, my life in publicity would have been such a doddle) – even BBC news has a page although I’d much rather visit their website for updates, but that’s just personal preference.
The internet can also be extremely destructive if not treated with a little caution. Splashing drunken photographs of yourself across a Facebook page may seem highly entertaining when you’re a student but may come back to bite you when (as happened to a friend’s son), fresh out of university with a good degree, you struggle to secure employment because the potential employer has checked your suitability via social media. There’s no hiding from it once it’s out there.
Posting photographs of children online is done either with complete naivety or a flagrant disregard for child protection. I came across an alarming post on WordPress recently highlighting the plight of one family who, quite innocently, posted a video of their six year old son performing in his school talent contest. The pictures got into the ‘wrong’ hands and went, as they say, viral. The family were traumatised by the salacious comments made towards their son and began a long and partly unsuccessful journey to have the video removed.
Sadly cyber bullying is rife amongst teenagers –just to be ‘unfriended’ causes untold grief. In the real world, some friendships fizzle out naturally due to geographic distance or a change in interests perhaps – but it doesn’t mean that the original friends have parted acrimoniously. Life goes on. Then there is the sinister issue of young people being ‘groomed’ on the internet and Facebook is the first port of call for this lowlife. How do teenagers assess the authenticity of a wannabe friend?
Which brings me to blogging. Blogging is a form of social media, so what’s the difference? Why do we blog? To seek out similar interests, to inspire and be inspired, to be informed through an alternative channel to anything else that’s published or broadcast. To have our say, I guess. We build communities with like-minded bloggers – we visit each other’s sites and leave comments. A comment is valuable; it can set off a discussion or a different train of thought. Blogging creates a form of friendship but, without wishing to offend, it’s a two dimensional one.
I don’t know you, not really, and you don’t know me (although through our creativity we get to know one another on a certain level), so how do you know that I’m not a sociopathic inmate residing in a high security prison? With a good imagination?
How do I know that you aren’t?
Have a good one.