When is a Friend 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). Oxford Dictionary of English, 2nd Edition (Kindle Locations 275852-275857). Oxford University Press – A. Kindle Edition.
Mine and most others understanding of the word is that friends are people you have met throughout your lifetime who you not only like but mostly get on with, enjoying their physical company. Close personal friends know each others weaknesses and strengths, likes and dislikes, taste, 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 misuse of the term. Chances are that of all the people you come in contact with on the internet during your lifetime, 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 others 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 as well as 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 Zuckerburg 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.