Sharing with you things that are on my mind...Maybe yours too. Come back to Wrights Lane for a visit anytime!

31 January, 2014

WHAT KIND OF A "FRIEND" ARE YOU ON FACEBOOK?

In real life I am a pretty easy-going guy. I take my relationships seriously. It is my nature to insert myself into the lives of the people I come to care about. I am interested in everyone I meet, on line or otherwise, and genuinely want to feel an instant kinship. I am a tease from away back...It is my way of being personable and putting myself and others at ease, as misguided and misunderstood as that may be at times. I tend to relate to new acquaintances as though I have known them all my life and often make the mistaken assumption that I can communicate with them like I have known them all my life. I have a history of assuming that everyone understands the dichotomy that is me -- mistake No 1.

I am open to the opinions of others and hope that they respect mine. When I have something positive to contribute in life, or a perceived nugget of inspiration that particularly moves me, I want to share it with others for what it is worth. Possibly mistake No.2.

I love God, kids and dogs, but I digress.

The forgoing is all by means of expressing certain disillusionment over participation in social media networks such as Facebook and the special interest group sites that have stemmed from it. The art of true conversation is completely lost in many on line exchanges. Words and expressions common in face-to-face exchanges between friends, are easily misunderstood when viewed on a computer monitor screen by someone who really does not know you beyond the digital realm.  We are self-protecting, far too easily offended and quick to judge when our insular sensitivities are penetrated.

"We've become accustomed to a new way of being 'alone together'…We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one, loyal to our own party," wrote professor and psychologist Sherry Turkle in the New York Times.

Regretfully, Facebook is changing the human race. People think, speak and live in status updates. We have become short spurts of witty commentary. It's becoming increasingly difficult to truly connect with a person, rather than just their online character. Generally, we are all becoming narcissists interested only in the number of "likes" we receive and complimentary comments to our timeline updates. Personally, I would rather hug my friends in person than "Poke" them. I prefer to laugh out loud than LOL. I am happier emailing someone directly or talking to them on the telephone instead of commenting on their timelines.

I actually withdrew from Facebook on two occasions due to frustration over verbal exchanges turned bitter and misunderstandings with certain "friends" that I had never met in person, nor would never have occasion to meet in my life time. All because I made the mistake of thinking that I was talking to a friend in the true sense of the word. The ultimate insult has been when, on several occasions, I have been "unfriended" by someone that I would not know if I bumped into them on the street.

I have found myself being stressed over some of my Facebook experiences and actually losing sleep because of it. It is a shame when a "social" network causes anti-social behaviour. In real life you simply do not lose friends with the all-too-easy click of a computer key. In real life, sensitivity is a two-way street. We value relationships, are conscious of the feelings of others and do not dismiss them over the slightest provocation.

Again, in real life I do not have a slew of friends. I have never been a conscious networker. Over the years friends have come into my life and then they have gone, the odd few hang on. I guess that you could call the hanger ons the ones who are my truest friends and I cherish them. Unlike so many, I do not actively solicit "friends" on Facebook but over the course of a seven-year period I have collected something in the neighbourhood of 140 friends (about average, according to Facebook statistics), some having requested my friendship while others I have selectively invited into my circle. In the past when I viewed people on Facebook with 500 or more friends, I felt kind of like an orphan but psychologists say that in reality you cannot have more than 150 friends and do justice to them.  So that makes me feel better.  I like to think that I am doing justice to my friends LOL.

Greek philosopher Aristotle said that there are three types of friends:

1) Friendship based on utility is friendship that is useful for each of the parties due to a special interest or involvement. There is nothing wrong with this kind of friendship, necessarily, as long as there is respect and mutuality, but it does not endure because the usefulness does not endure.

2) Friendship based on pleasure occurs when you enjoy the company of another person. Perhaps they are funny, interesting or enjoyable for some other reason. In such a relationship, when the pleasure ends, the friendship ends as well.

3) Friendship based on virtue is the highest form of friendship, according to Aristotle. Here, two people are morally virtuous individuals. Each loves what is good within them, and what is good in the other. In loving a friend one loves what is good for oneself, because these types of friends assist each other in living a virtuous life. They have a shared vision of a good and fulfilling human life, and help each other in their pursuit of such a life. Such a relationship requires time, familiarity, trust, mutual goodwill, and, of course, virtue. This kind of friendship is also pleasant and useful, but in the right way. So friendship based on virtue, "perfect friendship", as Aristotle calls it, encompasses the other two species, but in the right way. This kind of friendship endures, because goodness endures.

Are Facebook friends true friends? I guess it depends on what you mean by "friend". Clearly we can have friendships based on utility and pleasure via Facebook. But what about friendships based on virtue? I'm skeptical that we can, if Facebook is the only means by which we relate to another person. Given all that this highest form of friendship requires, it seems to me that some real (rather than merely virtual) contact is required. In this kind of friendship, the friends "do life" together, and this is tricky to accomplish via status updates.

I now feel comfortable with the friends that I do have on Facebook, however. I know what I can and cannot say to them (in some cases I have learned the hard way). I am still getting to know some of them, and they me...And there are a few who have come by way of utility and pleasure that I would actually like to meet in person some day and have a good old-fashioned conversation -- and really get to know them.

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