Log on to social networking giant MySpace and included right in the company logo is the slogan: a place for friends.
So, who exactly is a friend?
Growing up, a friend was most likely someone that you met in school, someone with whom you had common interests; maybe you would get together and hang out on the weekends. Your parents would often become friends with your friend’s parents. During summer vacation you might call one another on the phone or write letters back and forth, always looking forward to the day that you would see each other in person.
Times have changed in a hurry. Communication is instantaneous with cell phones, text messages and e-mail. It’s now possible to keep in touch with someone almost anywhere on the planet, and find out what they are doing right that minute.
It kind of takes away from the anticipation of receiving that letter a week or so later in the mailbox, don’t you think? Still, there was something personal about that letter from your friend; the kind of stationery it was on, their handwriting style, it all added up to something that you saved, tucked away in a shoe box. Personality can get lost with e-mail in Times New Roman, font 12.
Back to MySpace, or really any of the social networking sites out there, people often have thousands of “friends”. But I wonder, of the 382,079 friends I saw on one site, how many are really friends? Do you know each other’s birthday, favorite restaurant, family or even real name? Is it in fact even safe to give personal information out to these “friends”?
As much as I may have looked forward to seeing my classmate in person, I cannot say that I would feel the same way about meeting an internet friend. Maybe it goes back to how people get to know each other in the first place. Whatever it is that brings two people together in friendship, an interest in snowboarding or similar taste in music, it takes some time to develop.
This is not to say that sincere, long lasting friendships cannot be found on the internet. But they will also take time to develop, which often goes against the nature of instant friendship that goes hand in hand with the online social networking scene.
When internet friends have a disagreement, there is a chance that the friendship could be over as fast as it began. A quick e-mail sent back and forth between parties, then it’s off to the recycle bin and delete. It’s hard to imagine ending a relationship with someone that I had spent some time with in this manner. In addition, rarely are the details of a friendship, good or bad, privy to thousands or millions of people.
While this basic human relationship has been affected by the internet, there are so many ways to use it to our advantage. The internet can be used to locate an old friend that we have lost touch with. It can be used to share pictures, videos or remind us of birthdays or anniversaries. It can bring together people that have common interests or situations to share experiences. The internet may even help introduce us to people around the world that we would never have known otherwise.
How we choose to use this tool to define friendship is up to us.