Redefining Friends

I saw a post on Twitter from @Jocelyn_ mentioning her latest blog post.  Under normal circumstances this would not be remarkable.  However, it happened to be her 32nd straight day posting on her blog.  I realized how infrequently I write lately and decided I would make time tonight to compose something.  As I started mentally composing some ideas I thought about how I should mention this post was inspired by my “friend” Jocelyn.

This struck me as odd.  I’ve never met Jocelyn.  Beyond the fact that she writes, knits and has cats I don’t really know anything about her.  We’ve never had communication any longer than the 140 characters allowed by a Twitter reply.  Yet, when I referred to her I called her a friend.  Wow, things have changed.

I remember my first friend.  His name was Kevin and I was young enough that before I could meet him I had to ride my tricycle home and ask my mother if it was okay for me to cross the street.  (Yes, there was a time when a child who was too young to cross the street was still allowed to be outside unsupervised.  I wonder how many modern parents just went into conniptions reading that!)

I crossed the street, introduced myself (I was still Danny in those days) and we became friends.  Who knew one day Mark Zuckerberg would come along and turn that into a billion dollar idea?  Maybe if the Internet existed at that time I could have beaten him to it.  Heck, if Mark Zuckerberg existed at that time I could have just beaten him.

Fast forward more than a decade.  It’s now 1991 and I am starting my second year at university.  I’m using my 2400 baud modem to dial up to an eight-line bulletin board system (BBS) in Calgary called Octapode.  The key feature of this BBS was it allowed real-time chatting with other people.  Think of this as the Internet in diapers.  You knew everyone was somewhere in your local area since nobody could afford long distance phone rates. 

These were anonymous people hiding behind screen names.  I would spend hours talking to people online, sometimes they were across the hall, a different building on campus, or some other part of the city.  Over time we got to know each other and actually start to meet in real life.  We would go for coffee, shoot pool, and even hang out at each other’s homes.  They became “friends” only after real-life contact.

Now, thanks to the Internet and social media “friend” has taken on a much wider meaning.  I have traditional friends – those I see on at least a semi-regular basis.  I have Facebook friends – the vast majority of them are people I have met at some point.  I have Twitter friends – the vast majority of them, like @Jocelyn_ I’ve never met.

Friendships are fluid now.  Traditional friends become Facebook friends.  I’m sure it’s possible that a Twitter friend could become a traditional friend, although I can’t think of a situation where that has happened yet. 

In stark contrast to this fluidity, unlike my friendship with Kevin and many others which just faded away over the years, thanks to Facebook we now have a very deliberate act “unfriending”.  There is no transition phase – yesterday you were my friend, today you aren’t.  I don’t recall ever having to unfriend anyone, although I am sure there have been those who have quietly done it to me. Smile

To all my friends, no matter the type, I say “Thanks!”  You’re the best.

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1 Response to Redefining Friends

  1. Jocelyn says:

    I've been meditating on this very question lately. I used to refer to 'friends' as separately from 'people I knew on the internet'. At some point the two merged, happily. It feels really good!I'm really flattered that you read my blog – I confess feeling awkward about starting it and ultimately decided to do this project I committed to the writing and decided to be zen about putting it out there and whether or not anybody reads it. That said, it's really flattering that people like you do read it! Thanks, Friend!


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