A Word In Edgewise: Facebook “Friends” or Friends?

By E.B. Boatner February 18, 2016

Categories: Family & Friends, Our Lives

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“Oh, he says he has hundreds of friends, but how many of them does he ever see, or invite to his house? Those aren’t real friends.”

That used to be my take on Facebook but I’ve begun to reconsider; not about the “hundreds,” but the consideration of friends in an expanded definition. I think there’s more to these e-connections, something that creates threads of, let’s say, meta-friendships.

Most people today have held more than one job; 2016 is no longer our fathers’ and grandfathers’ work-the-same-job-till-retirement-take-the-gold-watch-go-home-and-wait-for-your-coronary existence. With high employee turnover, co-workers slipped by into the time-stream never to be seen or heard from again. Like so many old classmates of yore; high school, college. Gone.

Not so today with Facebook. Take the interesting Polish lady I used to work with at Marshall Fields. We parted ways in 2003. Years later I spied her Facebook post, became a friend, and found she’s lived in Washington, D.C., Manhattan, and Poland. I thoroughly enjoy following her peripatetic life, including the birth of her grandson, now an exuberant toddler.

I’ve always reacted to infants the way some recoil from arachnids, but I enjoy photos of her grandbaby, as well as the activities of another coworker that I last saw in person in 2010. I’m cheered by their family adventures, and feel exactly as I did in fourth grade after reading Cheaper by the Dozen: how wonderful; participate from afar.

There are classmates I haven’t seen since our graduation in 1963, but today, with the internet and Facebook, several of us continue discussions, sometimes lively disagreements. Even in Minneapolis, I don’t see living beings every day, but Facebook provides means for solitarians to extend our feelers (tentatively) into the world.

What I posit as a national problem, visible daily in those who would take over leadership of our country, is a lack of empathy for anyone outside their firmly drawn circle. Facebook has many flaws, but it does allow the explorer to reach out into another life, another culture, even alien methods of navigating the same culture, simply by sharing a “Happy Birthday,” “Congratulations,” or “Sorry for your loss” that are genuine without having to claim that individual as your best and dearest real-life pal. Simply a genuine Facebook friend.

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