When a Friend is not a Friend
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word friend thus:
Friend n. 1 a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations. (Used as a polite form of address or in ironic reference) An acquaintance or a stranger one comes across: My friends, let me introduce myself. Dictionaries, Oxford (2010-10-19).
Mine and most others’ understanding of the word is that friends are people you have met throughout your life who you not only like but mostly get on with, enjoying their physical company.
Close personal friends know each other’s weaknesses and strengths, likes and dislikes, tastes, moods, personal habits, etc.
You simply don’t get that same degree of familiarity with people you meet on the internet. At best, we appear one-dimensional to each other. So why do social media sites like Facebook and Twitter insist on using the word? They’re not the only ones to do so.
Even book sites like Goodreads are guilty of the same term misuse. Chances are that of all the people you contact on the internet during your lifetime, and you will meet less than one percent of them. In truth, until you actually meet someone, you cannot form a friendship, no matter how much information you may have about them.
Rather than using the word friend, perhaps the social media sites should consider using a word like acquaintance, as the OED suggests, because that’s all we really are to one another in reality.
Yes, we may enjoy chatting online.
Yes, we may take an interest in each other’s bursts of information about our families or what we got up to today, but that’s about as far as any online acquaintanceship can go.
After all, much as we would like to, we don’t log off and drive over to visit each other, do we, especially as we are spread across the entire globe? Years ago, long before the internet, we used to write to one another. We were pen pals. But even then, the vast majority of us never got to meet.
If you operate a blog, you don’t gain friends; you gain followers – a far more sensible system. Yes, friends and total strangers do visit your blog to read your latest post on whatever topic you are talking about at the time if it interests them. But are blog followers friends? No, not usually. Among your followers, you may have one or two real friends who enjoy your blog, but that’s it.
It’s high time a shakeup occurred within the world of social media. Mark Zuckerberg et al. need to change friend to acquaintance and, above all, add a dislike button. Not everyone likes a post. At the moment, all you can do is either ignore the offending one and move on to the next or write a negative comment.