When a friend is not a friend

This post addresses the changing meaning of friends and how I interpret friendship as my life has changed. At the turn of the century, keeping in contact with friends came down to see them face-to-face, phone calls, email, or, regular mail.

A silent revolution began in 2004 when Facebook launched. Facebook went world-wide in 2006. YouTube started in 2005, Twitter in 2006, and the tools to use them came with the iPhone in 2007, and Android in 2008. What’s App followed in 2009 and Instagram in 2010.

The advent of Android completed the foundations of the social media revolution. With these introductions, our concept of a friend started to change. Participation in friendship before 2004 was likely to be face-to-face and after 2008 less so. Since 2008 a new kind of friend has emerged.

Friends who were acquaintances are now friends. The ease with which we could now add friends ushered in a more open and immediate sharing of one’s life. From a users point of view, it soon became fashionable to have as many friends as one could collect. We now count our Facebook friends, almost as a badge of importance.

With an unprecedented level of access to our lives, Facebook and marketeers soon exploited the abundant harvest of personal data we unknowingly gave up. We may think that we are the customers of Facebook, but nothing could be further from the truth. Facebook’s customers are data harvesters and the marketeers who reap from our posts.

With our lives exposed, we now consider it the norm to live this way. Native webbers find it hard to understand what life would be like without phones or tablets. The easiest way to make a Millennial depressed is to take their phone away for a week. Now tell them to write or call their friends. Expect a tantrum.

But conversely, having an exposed life can cause pressures. The young feel that they have to keep messaging or posting, and if they don’t, then they think that they ought to. Similarly, some are dangerously exposed to conform.

I am defining a friend here as someone I see face-to-face at least some of the time. Yes, my time-tested friends will have access to social media and this is a superb way of supplementing our relationship. The critical point here is that such contact is supplementary to person-to-person time together. I want to look into their eyes, see their gestures, smell their presence and feel their touch, all denied by social media friends.

My troubled recent past caused me to think deeply about who my friends were. Were they those that listed on Facebook? Or, were they those that I had a face-to-face relationship?

In 2017, I experienced deep depression. You can find out more about that time in my post on Retirement recalibration. During that year, I decided to have a Facebook cull to resolve my inner conflict. I had become troubled, and my real need was for real friends. I was dismayed that I listed over 200 people with whom I may once have had a connection as my friends.

My retirement caused me to examine much of my life, and I no longer had any reason to continue listing these folk. If I retained a friend, then I would choose those who are meaningful.

Since I did not know what “meaningful” looked like in retirement, I started with a select group who I would make a special effort to see from time to time. I noticed something else; that some had stared out as work colleagues, but in a few cases, we had transitioned to become personal friends somewhere along the way. A friend who can transition with you and you with them is a friend of great value.

Pruning, reduced numbers to about 50 names, the chosen few. The trimmed 150 or so belonged to somewhere in the past. Each one was a worthy friend in another life. It might seem rather ruthless, but I was hungry for a new kind of meaning in my friendships.

For me, it represented progress and formed a part of the emerging clarity I was seeking for my life. And, I am not suggesting that those who did not make the final cut were terrible people; actually, they are good people with much to offer.

These matters are very personal. I had to face an uncomfortable truth, that because of my abrupt changes through my burn-out and breakdown; I could no longer sustain satellite people in my life without guilt.

Once I had made the cull, I wrote a post on Facebook to say that those who remained were my chosen ones. I was surprised at how many people responded positively, and I received some encouraging responses. These responses made me feel that I had done the right thing. What the process achieved was to create my standard selection criteria – a set of filters through which I examined who I was and what I wanted in a friendship.

To diagnose if a friend was a true friend or a Facebook friend, I asked questions of myself “What do they contribute to me?” and “What do I give to them?” More importantly, I asked my self if I wanted to have these friends in my life.

Of course, this analysis probably says more about me than it does about my friends. I fear my ENTJ worldview is poking through my edited veneer.

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