Our busy lives mean that maintaining friendships often slides down the list of priorities. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have helped define the nature of modern friendship. Experts have said that people now spend too long in front of their computers with virtual friends, instead of socialising.
I see it differently: our time today is often too tight to enable us to have regular, proper catch-ups with our friends. Facebook and Twitter enable us to slip in and out of each other’s lives, catching up as you go. They’ve helped me to maintain more friendships that I might otherwise have.
I’ve travelled the world and have friends who live in all four corners of the globe. It’s no longer necessary to make time for the ritual of getting out the thin blue Airmail paper to write my news. My far-flung friends are able to keep up with each others’ lives with regular snippets of news and photographs. It’s all for the better, as not many of us have the chance to sit down and write that long letter. However, that does take away the thrill of the arrival of a letter bearing an exotic stamp.
The internet even enables us to befriend people we might otherwise not have met. My partner Martin is interested in American sports and made friends with an Yank on an online forum. The friendship was sparked by Chris, the American, asking Martin why a Brit had such a pastime. This year, Chris and his family were holidaying in Europe, giving us the opportunity to meet up, as well as giving Martin and I the excuse to have a much-needed city break.
Colleagues had a great time thinking dreaming up all sorts of grisly fates that would no doubt await us in meeting our internet friends, because, after all, everyone knows the internet is full of weirdos, but I’m pleased to report it all worked out well. The ever-shrinking global village helped us make some fabulous new friends.
While online forums help us share common hobbies with people across the world, the internet also provides a virtual shoulder to cry on with people who know what you’re going through. Real-life friends can offer support with a glass of wine, but the forums offer an additional crutch.
We share lots of personal information with our friends, but how much personal information should we share on these sites? You have to think whether you put your life out there for work colleagues, acquaintances and family members with whom you might normally not share so much. Would you mind your boss or your mum seeing photos of you on a drunken night out?
Social media can mean saying goodbye to a fair amount of privacy in our private lives, no matter how circumspect we try to be.
Just as social media helps us maintain friendships in the face of hectic schedules, the nature of modern friendship presents complexities for dealing with friendships you no longer want. We’ve all had friendships that have fizzled out. In the olden days, the friendship would just have faded away, but technology presents us with a new dilemma: do you defriend them?
‘Defriending’ people isn’t as simple as clicking a button, as psychologist Sue Jamison-Powell has found. She says that being ‘defriended’ may have more in common with losing a lover.
Sue said: “In real-life friendships, there is the possibility of allowing friendships to drift into acquaintanceships. On many social networking sites, however, it is only possible to have people as a ‘friend’ or not.
“This makes online friendships something more like romantic relationships, which we tend to view in an either/or way: either we are in a relationship or we are not.”
It’s important to keep it all in perspective. The way we see friendships today may have changed, but that shouldn’t change the way we treat our friends.
‘Liking’ a status can never replace a proper catch up over a glass (or two) of wine.