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Kari Henley

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Are Facebook Friends "Real" Friends?

Posted: 03/29/09 10:00 AM ET

Well, I have to say one thing - HuffPost readers rock! This is one spirited group and thanks to everyone who joined in on the lively debate about "Facebook and Kids" last week. Clearly there is a lot of energy, pent up emotion, generational gaps and strong opinions regarding the "tipping point" of Facebook and other social networking sites. I stumbled into a much bigger lion's den than I imagined!

Today 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 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.

"You can have all the 'right' friends in terms of social prestige, in-group cachet, or business connections, or a spouse who is rich, brilliant and fabulous looking, but if there is no deep, emotional resonance, then none of these relationships will satisfy the hunger for connection or ease the pain of feeling isolated."
I believe most teens discussed last week deeply crave connection, and the cyber world is a tour de force of potential; with proper 'driving lessons' to guide them. Most of us 'grown ups' have not had time to develop close relationships in our lives. In fact, whenever I teach workshops and poll people as to who feels somewhat lonely in their lives, a majority raise their hands. I talk to people every day who lament they do not have a community in their lives, or a dedicated group of friends they feel they can count on to call when life is falling apart.

Psychologists Wendi Gardner and Marilynn Brewer studied the ways people describe themselves and believe when you answer the question, "Who Am I?" The answer usually relates to the groups in our lives. (ie: I am a mother, a writer, etc.). They created three categories of Self: your physical, social, and collective Selves. Here's a few tips on how to find balance across the physical and cyber world:

1) Ground your 'Physical Self'- stay grounded in what makes you unique in this world and tend to your inner life each day with the essentials of air, earth, fire and water. Find activities that put you in a "flow state."
2) Nurture you Social or Relational Self- Be mindful of the relationships you have through work, spouse, friends, neighbors and offer gratitude when you can. Knock on a door out of the blue and surprise someone!
3) Develop our "Collective Self"- this is the part of you that expands to others via social networking sites, larger societies or associations and other broader social identities that are less a part of your day-to-day experience, yet can expand who you are.

Maybe someday this will all blow over when we learn how to become telepathic. Then we can ditch all these terminals, beeping phones and complex devices and just return to the Oneness. We will simply know and trust that we are not alone and won't have to prove it over and over again.

As always, I love to hear your comments and thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment below or if you have a longer story to tell, you can email me directly at: karihenley@comcast.net. If you would like to receive notices of my columns, simply click on the "Become a Fan". See you next Sunday!

 

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