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Are Facebook Friends Really Your Friends?

The ease of creating virtual friendships teaches us that what we crave aren't just cyber connections, but meaningful connections.
 
 
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I'd like to explore why social networking in general has touched a collective nerve. Do sites like Facebook stand as viable communities, and are the people on your home page "real friends?" Many of you say no. It's the brick and mortar, sit-face-to-face-and-talk that counts. Some expressed feeling leery of all the myriad new drains on time and energy with texting, tweeting, facebooking and so on. They lament the discourtesy of people constantly texting while out to dinner, or using twitter to reply to Facebook to send you an email to ask a simple question. They fear we are losing ourselves.

Yet, this prism has many sides. Plenty out there are believe these sites are solid and viable resources for maintaining connections, and the wave of the future. Some of you spoke of how you enjoy the broad networks you can manage easily, as well as nostalgic components of finding old friends and delighting in renewed connections. One of our readers said she joined Facebook, met old elementary school friends she had lost touch with, and was making plans for a reunion in New York City.

"But do you really consider these relative strangers to be your 'friends?"' I asked her.

"Yes," she replied, "because they have a piece of my history that almost none of my existing friends have. It is really feels almost like finding a long lost relative."

So, what gives? When something hits a nerve, clearly there are unresolved emotions, the boundaries of a comfort zone is being tapped, or we are being asked to make a paradigm shift around something we are unsure of. Perhaps we are being asked to broaden our horizons of relationship in general.

Let's look at Wikipedia's definition of Friendship:

Friendship is a term used to denote co-operative and supportive behavior between two or more people. In this sense, the term connotes a relationship which involves mutual knowledge, esteem, and affection and respect along with a degree of rendering service to friends in times of need or crisis. Friends will welcome each other's company and exhibit loyalty towards each other, often to the point of altruism. Their tastes will usually be similar and may converge, and they will share enjoyable activities. They will also engage in mutually helping behavior, such as exchange of advice and the sharing of hardship.

How about the definition of community?

1) Group of people sharing a common understanding who reveal themselves by using the same language, manners, tradition and law. 2) The condition of having certain attitudes and interests in common.

Technically then, it really doesn't matter if you feel comforted by others online or feel nourished at church or connected at a company retreat; we all need varied experiences of friendship and community in our lives. I have written extensively about community and believe there is much to gnosh on here. What's behind the movement is essentially - we are starved for one another. That is why Facebook took off across the generations. We crave opportunities to see a friendly face and know the silly details of each others lives. It fills a void.

The experience of loneliness is a widespread societal wound. I believe, when we get down to the root, what we're craving is not physical or cyber connections, but Meaningful connections. Humans are hardwired to gather together as a means of survival, and loneliness prompts a "desire to affiliate" according to John Cacioppo, author of the book, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. I have quoted him before as his research is so powerful.