In the age of digital interaction, what counts as friendship?


While talking to my assistant yesterday I mentioned my love of podcasts. Without thinking I said, “I have two friends who host a thought provoking podcast on Sunday afternoons”. As soon as the words fell out of my mouth, I started to question my use of the term “friend”. I started to wonder, “are they my friends or are they acquaintances”? Why did I choose that word, and why was it so easy to think of them as friends even though we’ve never met face to face? In the age of superficial connections via social media, who is it that we can truly call our friend and who, an acquaintance?

Merriam Webster defines an acquaintance as:  Someone who is known but who is not a close friend The state of knowing someone in a personal or social way : the state of knowing someone as an acquaintance

This definition doesn’t seem to be at all helpful. If you know someone in a personal way, wouldn’t that person be your friend, or someone, because you personally know what she or he is like, is someone to avoid? We need a better definition.

Thanks to Facebook, we have come to loosely throw the term “friend” around when speaking about someone we’ve had even the slightest contact with. Before FB installed its Page feature, celebrities and authors looking to engage with their fans had to become “Friends” with them. Back in 2012 I became “friends” with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson and even had a one on one conversation with him, but in no way did that count as friendship. So what does?

Who is the friend and who is the acquaintance?

Take these two people as examples: one is someone with whom I am in almost daily contact with, even if it’s a quick note on her FB wall. We’ve been in contact for almost 9 years. In those 9 years we’ve managed an online book club together, wrote long personal e-mails (I owe her one) and have exchanged Christmas gifts. I can still recall the thrill of picking out books for her daughter’s 6th birthday. But for all of that, we’ve never met face to face. The other is someone that I went to school with. Someone I hung out with middle school (somewhere in my collection of pictures is one of us dancing at my 13th birthday party). Of course we lost contact after high school and it wasn’t until the invention of FB did we reconnect. I have no idea what his wife’s name is, or how long they’ve been married. Once in a while we post a comment on each other’s wall, and give the obligatory birthday greeting. Yet despite the fact that he and I went to school together and at one time had a personal relationship, I’d be hard pressed to say we are truly friends. He has become an acquaintance, while my online friend and I share a very close personal relationship.

The above example seems obvious, we are learning in large part thanks to the Internet, that real friendships can develop even if distance keeps us apart. But that doesn’t answer my original question, given that we can now connect with authors, podcasters, bloggers etc. Who is it that we can truly call our friend and who an acquaintance?  Have we’ve been conditioned to use this term as a catch all for our daily social interactions? What is the line between friendship and a casual acquaintance? Surly not everyone we interact with are true friends.

That last question was key to my understanding of why I called the two above mentioned podcasters my friends. I’ve subconsciously formed an idea of whom I call friend. We all have I’m sure. I even suspect we all have list of what makes up a friendship or at least a vague idea of such a list.

The more I pondered the term “friend” and how I use it, the more important this list seemed to be. So I sat down and wrote one out in order to answer my question and understand why I called two guys I’ve never met, friends. This is how I determine whom I feel comfortable calling friend. I was a little hesitant to share it, as I am sure there will be those reading it that don’t agree or may feel uncomfortable with my idea of friendship. Don’t worry, most of you will never be asked to help me move or get that frantic 2am call.

I once had a boyfriend tell me my internet relationships were not real. He's gone, but my online friends remain.
I once had a boyfriend tell me my internet relationships were not real. He’s gone, but my online friends remain.

You might be Sari’s friend, even though we’ve never met if:

We’ve stayed in contact for a long period of time, even if that contact has moved from one form of social media to another. We’ve shared our ups and downs and know as much, if not more, than the people in our daily lives.

You share personal pictures and stories on your FB wall and or blog and we talk about them, and we do this on a regular basis. I know about your family and your achievements and you know about mine. We cheer each other on and give sympathy when needed.

We feel comfortable posting possible unpopular opinions, knowing the other will not be offended because we both value honesty and differing points of view. And we do this quite often.

I am one of the few people that you will get back to right away. Whenever I e-mail or send a quick Tweet, you make sure to respond right away. We may not communicate often but when we do it is never shallow or impersonal.

Our conversations have moved beyond what brought us together in the first place. If we stay on one topic, then we are acquaintances who share similar tastes and worldviews.

In short, those I call friends know and value my opinions, take me for who I am and are comfortable being themselves around me. We share pieces of our lives, sometimes small, and sometimes more than we share with others. We may not be in constant contact, but when we do communicate it is always a good feeling. And that, I believe, is the cornerstone of all friendships, no matter the distance between us.

I count myself in nothing else so happy
As in a soul remembering my good friends.
William Shakespeare Richard II

If you have an idea or list of things that you use to determine friendship let us know. All comments are welcome.

Having it both ways when it comes to mass shootings

Fact: On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, a young, mentally unstable white male, walks into an elementary school and begins a mass shooting spree, killing 26 people, the majority of which were children.

Fact: On July 20th, 2012, James Holmes a young, mentally unstable white male, walks into a Colorado movie theater and begins a mass shooting spree, killing 24 people.

Fact: In March of 2014, Curtis Reeves an elderly white ex-cop shoots a man in a Florida movie theater for texting while watching the previews.

Fact: In July of 2015, a middle age white “drifter” with mental issues stands up in a Louisiana movie theater and begins a shooting spree, killing 2.

Fact: In October of 2015, Chris Harper- Mercer a young white male walks onto an Oregon college campus and begins a shoot spree, killing 9.

Fact: In December of 2015, a young Middle Eastern couple walks into the husband’s California office and begins a mass shooting spree, killing 14.

These are the mass shootings I can remember off the top of my head. Only the dates and number of victims were looked up for accuracy. There are many, many more but I think you get the point. At least I hope you do.

By now, many of you may be rolling your eyes and sighing. There she goes again about the need for gun control. No, not today. It’s not to say I don’t think we should regulate gun sales, I do. But if the idea of mentally unstable people, people with little to no gun safety training, or suspected terrorists having access to fire arms doesn’t scare you, then I am not sure how we can even begin to have a conversation. Why would I want to?

What scares me, and why I made this list, is of what has happened in the days following the California shooting. I am talking about the incendiary talk by those who are seeking higher office, and those who follows these idiots.

You see, these are the same people who defend the rights of the mental unstable, the irresponsible, and possible terrorist’s rights to own weapons; these same people who scream about their 2nd Amendment right as if God himself, decreed it to be so. These same people, who will not even discuss sensible gun laws, are now declaring that ALL people of the Muslim faith are our enemies and should be treated as such. Never mind that the real threats to Americans, according to statistics, are mentally unstable men and toddlers. Yes, toddlers! More Americans have been killed this year by accidental discharge by toddlers than Muslim extremists, yet we are now being told we must fear ALL Muslims, even though the majority of American Muslims have never commit a crime.; even though thousands are serving in our military. This type of talk must end! For it is this type of talk that incites violence and gives meaning and a voice to bigotry. It is the type of talk that led to 6 millions Jews to suffer in concentration camps, to suffer torture and death. It is the kind of talk that divides a nation that is already on the brink of social collapse.

If these self-styled defenders of the Nation want to talk about keeping us safe from violent extremists, why then are they pandering to American extremists? For it is these Americans, the people who fear the unknown, the unnamed assailant, who are their target audience. The majority of Americans do not buy into this madness (at least not yet) but as history as shown, time and time again, violent speeches lead to violent deeds. How can this make us any safer?

It would be laughable if it weren’t so insidious. Statistical data shows us that in the last year alone, there have been more mass shootings by white American males than there have been by outsiders ,yet it is the “outsiders” who are now our scapegoats for all of the bloodshed on American soil. This has got to stop!

If we don’t want to have a conversation about common sense gun laws then we have no right to point a finger at one group and declare “they are the problem”, not when so many of the modern mass shootings have been orchestrated by another group, one that will not be named. Not because we can’t but because if we do, then we will be forced to concede that our policies and 2nd Amendment may be flawed.

Just a few days ago, the Republican led Senate voted to defund the Affordable Health Care Act and Planned Parenthood but defeated a bill that would prohibit firearm sales to people on the No Fly List. Let me ask you a question, which makes you feel safer? Knowing HCA may be dismantled leaving millions without health insurance, knowing PP has no more money for cancer screenings for the poor or knowing a person of interest can walk into any gun store and buy a firearm?

When asked about gun safety laws Jeb Bush shrugged and said, “stuff happens”. This was said after an American born male went on a shooting spree. Here is his Tweet about the California attack.

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His Tweet would seem innocent and kind enough had just weeks earlier he  said, “I pray for the victims and their families” instead of “Stuff happens”. He was being asked about an American caused shooting spree and all he could muster was “Stuff happens”. When it came time to say something about a possible terrorist attack he shows more compassion. Hum.. I wonder why Jeb?

Yes Jeb, stuff does happen, and it will continue to happen, and possibly escalate if the candidates for higher office, the media, and the sitting congress continues to react as if only terrorists, if only the “others”, are to blame for American deaths.

We can’t have it both ways America. We can’t shrug our shoulders and say, “Don’t blame me for the few crazed Americans with access to guns”, all the while screaming, “Blame all Muslims for the few extremists with access to guns!” This has got to stop. We are better than this. At least, I hope that we are. For if we are not, well you know, stuff happens.

After posting this I came across an article in which a Fox news commentator said this:

Now, certainly Stuart, we could use more intelligent approaches to keeping guns out of the hands of psychotics. The Founding Fathers did not intend for every drunk psycho to have a machine gun collection. But law-abiding Americans owning guns is not the problem here. The problem is Islamist terrorism.