Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Devaluing The Word “Friend”


I was thinking this morning about how many “friends” I had before Facebook. It wasn’t many, I can tell you that. I have always kept the number of my friends small because the word “friend” means something to me and I don’t use it lightly. For me, being a friend comes with a certain responsibility that I don’t take lightly. There is a certain degree of care and concern that is implied in that word. I could not be there, as I would want to be there for my friends, if I allowed the number of people to get too large. It would be overwhelming to try to be attentive to too many. Even on Facebook, I have had to turn away requests from some very nice people, to tend to the 70 friends or so I have. Some of those are even duplicates, and others hardly use their page. So the number is actually quite smaller than it appears to be. It’s at a comfortable number for me right now.

But Facebook encourages people to make more and more and more “friends.” They suggest friends for us, they want us to be friends with the friends of friends too. The sky is the limit when it comes to adding friends. I’ve seen people with hundreds and thousands of friends on facebook. Just using the word “friend” to describe someone you don’t know and don’t even talk to seems to devalue the word in my mind. What does “friend” mean when everyone you come in contact with is your friend? It means less and less until it means nothing. Facebook encourages you to make friends, all the while devaluing the meaning of the word. It’s making it ordinary when it should be a special word for a special bond. What they really should call “friends” instead are “contacts,” “associates,” “buddies,” “followers,” anything but “friends.”

Out of my 70 friends, maybe 40 or so are actively using their page, but I consider all of them my friends. What can I do for people I have never met, but have grown to know through our facebook pages? Maybe not much, but I will do what I can. I am paying attention and try to show I care. If they post they have a doctor’s appointment, I will wish them good luck or ask how it went. If they ask for prayers, I will acknowledge that and offer my prayers. If it’s their daughter’s birthday, I will stop and wish their child a happy birthday. If they have been absent for a while, I will send a little note asking how they are. If they are nervous about a test or job interview I will try to “hold their hand” and boost their confidence as much as I can. If they have a problem, I try to help them find a solution. If they tell me their child graduated I can share their joy. If a loved one died, I can share their sorrow. It just goes on and on, every day my friends are posting about their lives and I take an interest in them and what is going on. They all give back to me what I give to them. That’s why I call my facebook friends “friends” because that’s what they are, and that’s why I keep them to a chosen few.

If I had 1,000 friends, everyone would be lost in the shuffle. How could I keep up with them all? There couldn’t be an intimate interaction with a chosen few if my newsfeed is being flooded by comments, pictures, videos from the masses. I wouldn’t consider anyone my “friend” regardless of what facebook calls them. I wouldn’t know their children and grandchildren’s names are Megan, Alex, Ellie, James, Mason, Katie, Nancy, Kendra, Cassie, Ruby, Kennedy, Emily, Charlie…or their spouses names. I mean why bother when you don’t have a relationship of any kind.

So, while facebook is a good way of sometimes making or keeping friends, and I have made quite a few, to call everyone a “friend” really takes away from the meaning of the word. People seem to get great pleasure in accumulating “friends” because it makes them feel more popular. But I wonder is how many in those 500 or 1,000 friends remembers to send you birthday wishes, send you prayers, or cares if you go missing for two weeks?

My friend list is going to remain small and intimate. I’m not anxious to add anyone else. When I say “my friend on facebook” I really mean it, I’m not just throwing the word friend around.

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