The bigger story to me, is how Facebook has been a catalyst for the creation of new relationships. Anyone that uses Facebook knows that when you hook up with someone on Facebook you have “friended” them on Facebook. Currently I have 1468 friends on Facebook. I don’t say that to brag or to boast or for any other reason but to say that I have all of these “relationships”. It causes me to reflect on what the meaning of “friend” is now that we have Social Media.
When I was in high school in the 1970s I moved three different times and went to three different high schools. I didn’t have an opportunity to make what I would call “long term” friendships. But, in each of my three high schools (Charles M Russell in Great Falls, MT; Bozeeman Senior in Bozeman, MT; and Murray High in Murray, Utah), I was able to garner some good friendships. I was always an anti-clique friend to many, taking pride in the fact that I was able to cross numerous thresholds to become friends with members of the band, athletes and members of other groups and clubs in school. Nevertheless, each of my friends typically had something in common with me whether it was being a band member, or a cross-country team member, or a member of the journalism club, we always had something in common.
Currently I really have very few relationships with individuals from my first two high schools in Great Falls and Bozeman, but I have a lot of good relationships with many from my Murray high school days. I’m not sure what the difference was since I spent the same amount of time at each school, but perhaps it was that I graduated from Murray High and that I joined the LDS (Mormon) church in Murray that many of my friends, most of whom were Mormons, probably deepened the relationships that I had. To this day some of them are still very close friends.
Back then our main means of communication was meeting and doing things together and talking on the phone. Very few of us wrote letters, and indeed, I was not a very good letter writer either. When I went to Japan to serve as a missionary for the LDS church, I did write a lot of letters and receive a lot of letters but most of them were from family members and not my friends. When I returned home in 1978, I once again hooked up with friends and we would go to movies, rock concerts and out to eat and other things that young twentysomethings did back then.
With the birth of America Online and appearance of email, the opportunity to hook up with friends via electronic communication became appealing to many of us. It was easier to start catching up with people and doing it via email. And, of course, in those days, we’re talking the 1990s, email was hip.
But then about 10 years ago this new Internet thing called Facebook was born. It was the birth of social networking as we know it today. Initially it was college students and high school kids that caught on and started using Facebook. Adults like me, then in my 40s, just didn’t get it yet. But, responsible parents started checking in on their children’s Internet activities which included Facebook. We then wondered about ourselves participating in Facebook. At the same time, there were other groups trying to do the same thing. MySpace was born, and MySpace ended up being for musicians and it still is out there but nothing like Facebook. Others tried as well, but Facebook always seem to be the one to get the thumbs up from everyone.
So, on June 12, 2007 I joined Facebook (as you can see from my video). I didn’t really begin posting much until around December of that year when my son Seth got married and I began using it as a photo news site. Since that time I have posted 1000s of photos on Facebook, including 100s of “selfies” that I have taken from my road trips. Many photos are with my friends.
More importantly though, Facebook has seemingly brought about a new definition of “friend.” A search on Google defines friend as “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.” My definition of friend is close “a person with a common interest and one with a mutual affectionate relationship.” By affectionate I am not referring to the Touchy Feely kind of affection, but rather a relationship where you see someone or do something with them quite often. But, ironically, for many, some Facebook “friends” may be actually be people we have never met in person. Can you really become a friend with someone you have never met? That is the real gist of this post.
Well, much like my days in high school where I had friends across different spectrums of groups and organizations, I believe that I have been able to do the same thing through social networking whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Google+ or other forms of social networking. Indeed, I have what I would call different layers of friends on Facebook and these other social networks.
To be sure, I have a plethora of “friends” from all walks of life….Mormons, Catholics, Jews, Gays, Atheists, Right Wing Tea Party activists and left-leaning politocos, athletes, musicians, artists, photographers, vegans, food junkies, videographers, sports writers, authors, publishers, movie producers, truck drivers, computer nerds.
Not counting my family “friends” on Facebook, perhaps my first and biggest layer of friends are those individuals with whom I have day to day and/or week to week interpersonal relationships, whether they be through business, church, or other activities that I participate in at this point. These are people that I physically know, that I have seen, that I have shaken hands with or given a hug to. They may be work associates or friends from booster clubs and other organizations. These are my “close friends.” I can recall letting work associates that, in many respects, we were like family. They may have scoffed, but, in reality, we have forged relationships that go deeper than the job.
The next layer is what I would call my “long lost friends.” Hereafter, I may use first names of many of these individuals, and these will be their real first names. Let’s take Sue for instance. I first met Sue in person in 1973 in Bozeman, MT. She was with her family visiting from New Jersey for a large Airstream Rally. I hung around with Sue and her sister and her family for the few days that they were in town because I was doing a article about the Airstream rally for my high school paper. After they left, we did not have any communication per se. But in 1975, I joined the LDS (Mormon) church and a year later left for my mission to Japan. After I returned from my mission in 1978, I moved to Provo, UT and, on my first weekend in church in Provo, lo and behold, I ran into Sue. It was obviously a shock to her as well because, at the time I met her in Bozeman, I knew nothing about the Mormon church. But she and her family had told me a lot about it because they were very devout members. Needless to say, she had a profound impact on my life and she didn’t even know it. After many years of searching, I finally found her and contacted her via Facebook, in a private message. And we have since become Facebook “friends.” Like me, she has since been married, had children and even had grandchildren. Today we rarely, if at all, communicate, even through Facebook. But Facebook offered us both something that other friendship opportunities may not offer. We get to be a “fly on the wall” of our friends and keep up with them, even when they don’t know it. That is, the opportunity to “lurk” on someone else’s life via their Facebook page.
No the word lurk is an unusual word. In computerese it basically means “to read or observe an ongoing discussion without participating in it.” In the past it seems to have referred to something a little bit on the shady side, something that was a bit secretive. But for a site like Facebook many friends do their lurking via the now well known “News Feed.”
I have a lot of “friends” and not a lot of time to read all of their posts. So, occasionally I “drop in” on them and see what is going on. If I like a post or a photo I will add a thumbs up so that they know I had dropped in. I see many of those as well from “lurkers’ to my Facebook page.
Back to my friends…. Indeed, I have rekindled friendships from the past such as with Pat and Sam from Bozeman, Maggie and Penny from Salt Lake, John and JP from Cebu, Gerhard (from Germany but now lives in Singapore) and Mark (from Lexington but now in Singapore), friends from Japan, Puerto Rico, China, Ireland, Australia and more. It is fun to keep up with all of them.
I then have that thick layer…general acquaintances…friends of my children, people I have met along the way like Samantha and Lindsey from Camp 31 BBQ in Paris, Ontario or Lori from the March Madness Marching Band in Lexington (after I shared dozens of photos from parades in Lexington) high school coaches I met through an employer, people that want to share a part of their lives.
Then comes the most interesting layer of all…the “Social Media” friends. These are people I have met online or have become acquainted with through other common friends or interests. Some of them I eventually met, like my friend Mari, a struggling author in Lexington; Dan, a Lexington photographer; or Ione from California (another Trailer Park Troubadours fan whom I met on a Troubs’ cruise). Others I have become good friends with and communicate with at least weekly, such as Ed in California (who came to me through Antsy McClain and has since discovered our myriad joint interests), Michael from Georgetown, TX (another Troubs fan) or Tui from Dallas who writes a travel blog about quirky places and is currently publishing a book or even Doug (from Somewhereville, USA) who runs the Roadside America website. And there are dozens more that have “friended” me for one reason or another.
So, on the week of Facebook’s 10th birthday, we can thank Mark Zuckerburg and his friends for their ingenious way of making the world smaller and having (in general) a profoundly positive impact on the world. I know that Facebook (and my other Social Media sites) have really provided me with a richer outlook on life and the world I live in.
And to thank you for being a friend I am going to use one of my favorite musicians from 40 years ago – Andrew Gold