Saturday, July 2, 2011

Social Network Friends: Would You Die for Your Friends?

"How many friends do you have?" I remember Uncle Jim asking me when I was sixteen years old.

"Oh, I don't know. A couple hundred."

"That's dangerous."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, a friend is someone you'd die for. So you're willing to die for a couple hundred people? That sounds dangerous to me."

That was the point in my life when I learned the difference between the words friend and acquaintance.

I used to teach a unit at school about circles of intimacy.
  • Self
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Acquaintances
  • Strangers
These layers of intimacy were placed in concentric circles, with self placed at the center. Family and friends can be somewhat fluid--some family members not at all close to one, and some friends achieving that status of "family."

Many of those we may class as friends may actually be acquaintances--people we spend time with and whose company we appreciate and enjoy, but someone whose interactions with us only go so deep, that is to say, not very.

Some friends nowadays may even be strangers, especially with the internet.

Friends, people who like you, connections, followers: there are probably buzz words I'm missing, but these words all relate to individuals who have clicked an online icon, and who have created a link with you in the virtual world.

I am not saying that one cannot meet and get to know someone online. I even have a friend who first met his wife online, via a virtual game. (I wonder if once they were married, she continued to virtually "kill" him.) But if friendship derives from shared experience, then I believe face-to-face contact is an essential ingredient of a fully developed friendship.

My son, when still in his teens, said he had friends online that he had gotten to know by playing World of Warcraft. Our suggestion from home was to keep separate virtual friendships from face-to-face friendships--and that perhaps one day virtual friends could or would become actual friends. No dice, didn't scan.

I traded books with an online friend. Her book contained a variety of errors (such as heal instead of heel, and woe instead of whoa), and I was planning on sending her a private email, suggesting that she spend more time on the novel and then upload a new version of the ebook and paper version. Meanwhile, she read my novel, thought the realism was too gritty, too suggestive to young readers and might give them ideas--and posted a "one star" review. My wife reminded me of my conversation with my son. Yes, I had fallen for the idea that my online "friend" was really someone I knew. Naivete, thy name is social networker. 

Bloggers who regularly receive and review books, of course, have a professional obligation to honesty. They usually state that in their blog's "submission" section. Their relationship of reviewer and author/publisher is professional, not personal.

Does that differ from an individual that one is connected to? The answer is, I suppose, utimately yes and no. Poet Lyn Lifshin adds about 10-20 friends to her Facebook personal account each day. As of this writing, she had 3890 friends, one of them me. Local Poet Rustin Larson has 686 members in his radio show Facebook group Irving Toast, Poetry Ghost, and 506 members in his Facebook group named after his most recent poetry book, The Wine-Dark House. Those members probably contain individuals  in all those circles of intimacy.

My advice for myself is to use the word acquaintance instead of all the other words that the social networks use to market themselves. I'm comfortable with acquaintance. Let me say it again: acquaintance. Someone I've met and occasionally spend time with. Someone whom I sometimes help, and who sometimes helps me. Someone whom I might someday get to know better--who may, someday, call me friend--whom one day I might call friend. Or, to quote my uncle: be placed on that precious list of someone we'd be willing to die for.

Copyright 2011 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved