Over the past few months there have been some bad/sad things in my life – a few I’ve kept to myself, a few I’ve posted about on Facebook. Last weekend I learned that two people I knew had died suddenly, neither of which were announced anywhere on social media. What’s telling is how we deal with our friends when those bad, or sad, things happen.
For example, my 16-year-old cat got very ill and is now comfortably resting in a wooden box on my mantlepiece (next to another cat who died 15 years ago). That was one of the things I posted on Facebook. Of my 398 “friends” about 50 commented on my “wall”… another 10 either e-mailed or left me a private message… and a few did both as well as call me to say how sorry they were. Almost daily I get a notification that it’s someone’s birthday and I’m encouraged to leave a message and give them a gift; frequently I’ll do the former but the latter? If I’m going to give a gift, it’ll come with a personally written note.
Did you know I have pen pals? Yes, we e-mail, but we also exchange handwritten notes – sometimes 2 or 3 a week. I have notepaper and fountain pens and all that stuff.
The people I’m friends with on Facebook and Goodreads are all people I actually know, people I could easily write to (if I had their street address, which I don’t in many cases) or have a meal with. I’ve never been comfortable with using either platform for the casual acquaintance/friend-of-a-friend thing, and my goal is not gain friends “just because”. It’s something I just don’t understand about the young’uns today, and something I worry about.
Friendship shouldn’t be a contest – the one with the most isn’t going to win, they’re going to be torn in too many directions. And being a friend is more than merely “liking” the things they say, it’s being there with a shoulder to cry on or hand to high-five (or fistbump. whatever.) So many books have great friendships, and perhaps that’s why few are being set in today’s world. I see texting in books, but not the obsessive texting we hear about via Pew or newspapers. One former student was so busy texting with her mother in between classes that she barely had friends! Maybe my FB friends are different, but I don’t see them on all day, every day, documenting the minutiae of their lives, and I see fewer and fewer of them actively participating on FB (or Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.) as they age and grow into real life. On the other hand, I’ve watched people text and e-mail through meals with friends, church services and other life events and wondered who raised them that they would act so inappropriately (sadly, a few of them are related to me, and I know who raised them… let’s just say my esteem for them has sunk greatly).
Perhaps I’m worrying about nothing? Perhaps today’s kids know that being a real friend has nothing to do with social media and everything to do with actually, you know, being a friend. But then I go out to eat and see people texting while eating and wonder, what kind of world do we live in that you’d rather be with someone electronically than being with the person in front of you?