Who counts as a friend? For many of us, friends are those so listed in a facebook account.
There were other ideas about friend and friendship before the facebook characterisation rose to dominance. In those conceptions, to have 5,000 friends would be impossible. Not so on FB. Among facebook friends are, of course, some who were already our friends – before we added them to the facebook lot. Such ‘beyond FB’ friends are of a different kind: a breed I am tempted to call ‘proper friends’.
Friendship of the proper variety is too precious to be allowed slowly to atrophy or be replaced by the FB kind. It is in many ways more powerful than lovership. Who we choose as friends in turn mould who we are. For who we are, or who we become, is influenced unnoticed by who our friends are, probably more than by who our lovers are. Lovers influence a more superficial aspect of our being, often more intensely than friends can. But we turn off lovers more often and more quickly than we turn off friends.
Friends who become our lovers are an unimaginable and rare delight. Better even than lovers who become friends. But that is quite another matter.
(To be up with the times I should refer to lovers and spouses as ‘partners’, I guess. But this leads to some new difficulties. One could, for instance, have only a single current spouse in most societies, but any number of concurrent lovers. With partners the position is not so clear. Can one have a partner and at the same time extra-partneral lovers? Or are these extras also partners?)
Friends make no demands, while lovers and family rarely do not. Friends don’t turn off because we befriend someone else. This is why they are able to change us, to turn us subtly into something else – better or worse. Not-making-demands does not by itself make a proper friend of course. A friend also cares.
The great danger is that uncaring, remote and virtual friends too can mould us in important ways. For instance, we probably begin to change as a result of having presented ourselves in a particular way on facebook. We then come to resemble the person we present in the virtual realm. To pose to conform with what we imagine the remote pack admires must surely change us. The potential for subtle alterations in who we are is a grave danger, should we not see it happening.
Even more seriously, friendship equated to intimacy in the virtual world, devoid of caring, demeans the real-life thing.