“While friendship itself has an air of eternity about it, seeming to transcend all natural limits, there is hardly any emotion so utterly at the mercy of time. We form friendships, and grow out of them. It might almost be said that we cannot retain the faculty of friendship unless we are continually making new friends.” Robert Hugh Benson
If you recall, we started this blog in Part I ~Redefining the Medium: Fleeting Fame, Fast Friends and Social Media Connections, where I touched on the not so delicate matter of the confidential, taped interviews of Michael Jackson. The Rabbi is entitled to his decision though I still wonder where, as compassionate humans, we ought to draw the line when we engage in the public dissemination of private conversations. If the notion of confidentiality in friendship is slowly losing its cachet, should it be surprising that private confidences are exposed for all to see on social network sites?
“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing, and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” Henri Nouwen
In addition to the constant dissemination of sapid news or trending topics, another critical element in this conversation is the ever-growing influence Social Media (SM) has on our definitions of friendship on social networking sites. SM provides social interaction via the use of social networking tools/sites that encourage and enhance the human need to be in constant communication with each other. Even when we are not physically present, we have the capacity to connect with our ever growing sphere of friends and family through an impressive range of social networking, online media channels.
The ease of connecting with celebs, media moguls and people from all works of life contributes to the huge success of the medium. From the comfort of your laptop, you can reach out and “touch” a ton of people. Businesses have cottoned on to this obvious marketing tool and are a growing presence on Twitter, Facebook and a host of other sites. Legacy bloggers and online experts have become international stars as the global reach of the internet allows greater access to their work; often via a blog link or direct connection on a networking site. This massive exposure has a catch; it attracts friends and foes alike and all have to contend with the fickle tendencies of their audience/readership.
“How does one keep from “growing old inside”? Surely only in community. The only way to make friends with time is to stay friends with people…. Taking community seriously not only gives us the companionship we need, it also relieves us of the notion that we are indispensable.” Robert McAfee Brown
The growth of online communities and virtual relationships adds another dimension to the traditional definition of friendship. Traditionally, we meet our friends, and occasionally, our acquaintances and enemies, in person. We celebrate milestones with our loved ones and closest friends. We develop many friendships that last a lifetime and the word -friend- carries much weight. While these friendships are also sustained through social engagements, emails, phone calls, letters and visits, a key benefit is the face time spent together; face time in real time, real life, real world settings.
In our virtual communities the word – friend – is used loosely. Befriending others is definitely imperative to enlarging our sphere of influence in the Virtualverse©, however, virtual friends can remain incognito, be traded for burgers, become viral/spammy, be ignored, unfollowed or invited to attend/join a dizzying number of virtual clubs/groups/parties. The standard rules of friendship don’t always apply in these arenas and that is what triggers the sense of urgency to find more/new friends. Friendly engagement is encouraged at initial contact until the euphoria wears off, the next great connection shows up, or the social connectors simply move on. Buzzing around like bees in search of nectar, we miss the chance to get to know each other beyond our catchy user names and superficial introductions.
“True friendship consists not in the multitude of friends, but in their worth and value.” Ben Jonson
Besides Facebook and Twitter, two top sites that have become dominant, heirs apparent to the social networking universe, MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Flickr, YouTube, Match.com, eHarmony and a slew of other online networking sites also contribute to the concept of building digital identities and friendships; they collect our data and announce us to others with similar goals or interests. Each site markets itself as a distinct, social network community replete with its own unique culture and rules of engagement. Of course, there is some cross-pollination as these sites battle to offer more and more features, benefits and values to their growing, global subscribers.
David Carr’s Spectrum of online relationships illustrates the genesis of an online contact and its ultimate destination; a place where if all goes well, we invest, collaborate and share wins. The dynamics that play into online social encounters are, to an extent, similar to offline social exchanges. There is the equivalent of flirtation, then courtship, a marriage of mutual interests, piqued or waning interest, followed by a collaborative or disaffected friendship connection. The difference is that online, the progression from initiate to fast friendship is immediate; even while the new “friend” on either side remains unknown.
“A friend who is far away is sometimes much nearer than one who is at hand. Is not the mountain far more awe-inspiring and more clearly visible to one passing through the valley than to those who inhabit the mountain?” Kahlil Gibran
Nevertheless, the fast pace of our social network interactions has contributed to the challenge of finding time to connect with new and old friends beyond the initial hello. Facebook and Twitter use the word “friend” when encouraging us to build our connections whether through Friend Finder on Facebook or the myriads ways we build conscious or unconscious friendships on Twitter. Naturally, the primary intention behind most of our “friending” on SM sites is about having a virtual interactive experience, however, some people do take the word literally. True friendships grow and, like a mature tree, produce deep roots to solidify the depth of the friendship. Forced or fast friendships don’t; unless each side makes a concerted effort to become invested in its growth.
LinkedIn and Plaxo offer “friend” as a selected option when connecting with or inviting other people to become a business contact. This option is probably chosen by people when a link/connection does not fit under one of the obvious work-related categories. For instance, a Twitter or Facebook friend will also be a LinkedIn friend unless they belong to one of your groups or have a business connection with you and your resume in the real world. Ironically, you can be triple connected on multiple sites and still know only snippets of information about your connections. quite remarkable isn’t it?
“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.” E. B. White (Charlotte in “Charlotte’s Web”)
Inevitably, as media attention swirling around Facebook and Twitter has grown, more celebrities and big businesses have jumped on the bandwagon. Ashton Kutcher became the first Tweep to gain a million followers. Oprah soon followed. Actors, singers, writers (J.K.Rowling joined recently), athletes and other entertaining folk from a wide spectrum of fields have since joined the fray; some of them pay attention to their random tweets and quickly get their fawning, following millions. New rules have had to be implemented for the community and especially for those intent on abusing it. Virtual fame and friends still come fast and furious as applications from Tweetdeck to Twittorati keep us all on our toes.
“No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.” Alice Walker
To keep up with its version of close encounters of the expanding friendship network, Facebook has also implemented new rules to accommodate the growing noise and cancel out some of the anonymity that encourages virtual abuse. Aside from owning our names on FB, we have more customizable control over what we and our “friends” can see and read. You can now choose to use Facebook Connect via your FB page for both business and social connections and keep the connections separate. You simply customize your friendly connections into controlled categories; ending up with self-created levels or degrees of friendships with ranging access. Businesses, industry experts, the famous, and wannabees can all have fan pages dedicated to their products, craft or causes.
LinkedIn, which is all about business connections, continues to steer its membership into maintaining a business orientation by advocating group memberships, strict rules around sending invites and professional mode photos. It recently laid down the law by removing, without warning, profile photo images considered in violation of the LinkedIn Photo Policy because they were “not an accurate representation of you.” Images that were not representative of the human or company brand behind it were unceremoniously cast aside. Social friendships might be developed through the groups you join, but that doesn’t seem to be the modus operandi of LinkedIn.
“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention…. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.” Rachel Naomi Remen
In addition to redefinitions of friendships, another interesting cultural shift that has occurred within these virtual communities is that the Virtualverse, which might have once prided itself on being an egalitarian construct, is increasingly less so. The virtual world is becoming more of a microcosm of the social, real world we actually inhabit; with procedures, power players and plebs – shades of j. doe and everyone else. There is also the not so current but growing trend towards monetizing our social networking connections which has brought some new players, big and small businesses, spammers and faster friends on the scene. I wonder how these players interact and if they truly listen to the needs of the community. The word, in some circles, is that we all stand to benefit from this mass monetization campaign. Do we? How?
My main concern is that the spontaneous creativity and excitement that welcomed a new generation of socialized technology might get circumvented by the rush to cash in/out. We need to listen to the reactions in our larger communities and track the way newer types of monetized, exclusive communities are evolving. As we try to build a sense of real community within our virtual communities, how will this drive to monetize them impact us? While this could be a good thing, I don’t have all the answers. Do you?
As we struggle to make meaning of our social networks and their influence on fame, friendships, business and media connections, we must revisit the original impulse that triggered the birth of virtual communities. The original idea of building online, social communities for people to congregate and communicate must remain fundamental to the survival of our social network sites. If not, something new will have to replace it or we will all have to go back to the proverbial drawing board. What do you think the future holds for SM sites? What’s next and when? Share your food for thought.
Friendship Highway, Tibet Gorge ~ Marty L. Lutz
The Social Media Conversation via Brian S and Jesse ~ Google Images
Friendship by Pablo Picasso 1908 via Olga’s Gallery
Spectrum of Online Relationships via David Carr
The Friendship Tree by Ian Marke 2006©
The Social Media Jungle ~ Google Images
15 Minutes of Fame ~ Google Images
Social Media: What we think ~ Google Images
Until Next Time…
Ask. Believe. Receive. ©