PUTTING THE FACE INTO FACEBOOK FRIENDSHIPS

“Using friend as a verb is a recent phenomenon, thanks to Facebook. In a verb world, friending is a simple click taking only seconds to bridge a connection. In a noun world, being a friend requires a real investment of time.”

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Facebook friends, are they really our friends?

Has social media redefined our sense of values about friendship?

Could a friendship simply be “knowing someone” or “having them on your Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn?”

What is the difference between an online friendship as opposed to a face to face friendship?

Has Facebook become a melting pot of strangers and online acquaintances who have yet to meet in the flesh?

Separate of established friends, family, and co-workers, how many friendships have you formed online through community interest groups?

What was the commonality required in order for you to click on a stranger’s name to invite a friendship?

Would political or religious differences lead you to ending a Facebook friendship?

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To unfriend someone on Facebook is rather common, no explanations or reasons are needed. With a simple click, you can virtually disappear from someone’s life.

Would you end a valued friendship this way in the real world?

Has social media crippled our communication skills?

Do we hide behind the keyboard instead of having face to face conversations?

Have we become emotionally braver via text, yet cowardice in limbic conversations?

EMOTIONAL INTIMACY

Can a form of emotional intimacy be established online?

Could this online vulnerability transform a virtual friendship into a face to face friendship?

Why do some of us feel safer disclosing intimate personal details via a keyboard as opposed to a sit down with a cup of coffee?

Are we more willing to share our world from the safety of our laptop?

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These are some of the questions that have floated around in my head since moving to Vermilion Cliffs nine months ago. Has Facebook been more a friend or foe since living remotely?

Personally, I feel Facebook has helped me maintain long-term friendships, in addition to creating and establishing new relationships. My internet communications have become so intimate that I now feel it’s possible to cultivate authentic relationships online. I often wonder how many of us get the chance to meet some of our online confidants and actually spend quality time with them. In this regard, I consider myself extremely fortunate, as I was able to meet some of my online friends this year. Not only did meeting them in person make our relationship stronger, it reinforced what connected us in the first place, authenticity!

FACEBOOK FRIENDS I MET IN 2014

Ranger Karen drove 300 miles out of her way to come by and say “HI!”. Her spontaneity and eagerness to meet in person made my day, month and year. Karen was a blog follower and a Facebook friend, who I met through the full timer’s RV community.

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Sethi is a Bay Area native, who I met through the John Muir Trail Facebook community. Sometimes our phone service out here is unreliable, and even though she could not reach me via phone she still came out to see me.

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Fortunately, I was home and spent the day together hiking and bonding in the mud.

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Renee is a fellow nomad I met through Facebook travel communities. I think mainstream society would be surprised to learn that there are many women traveling solo, deciding not to wait for the ultimate travel partner, instead they are living in the now.

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Jackie is yet another Facebook friend I met through the full timers RV community. When I was researching alternative ways of living, she offered some very helpful advice regarding potential LGBT job discrimination.

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I was curious to learn more about Jackie’s life on the road and asked if she would be willing to sit down for an interview. Without hesitation, she said “Yes” and then later that evening we spent two hours filming. Look for a blog about her story in 2015. In the meantime here is part of her story.

FACEBOOK FRIENDS

According to recent studies by the Pew Research Center, Facebook users average about 338 friends each. It makes one wonder if it’s possible to sustain friendships with over 300 people at one time?

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar believes our brains aren’t big enough to hold all the information necessary to maintain relationships with hundreds of people. In 1993, Dunbar conducted research to determine the cognitive limits of a person’s effective real-world social network, where individuals know who each person in that network is and how each relates to every other person. Although his research was based primarily on animal and primate interactions, Dunbar’s analysis and theories have since been applied in psychological and sociological circles and have given rise to “Dunbar’s number.” That limit, it seems, is about 150 people including your favorite waitress, your boss, co-workers, people you attend church and social functions with, classmates, and so on. But that’s just the limit of people you can maintain stable relationships with, much less friendship.

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It’s estimated that the average American spends 37 minutes on social media each day. That’s a full day each month spent cultivating relationships in front of a screen. Cumulatively, Americans spend 115 billion minutes each month on Facebook.

Are we sacrificing time that could otherwise be invested in real-time face to face friendships?

What if one lives remotely and face to face time is not an option?

Is it possible that the larger your “network” the shallower your connections become?

How would you measure the depth in your network connections?

By immersing ourselves in social media, are we ultimately choosing quantity over quality in our friendships?

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A college friend of mine confessed that having lots of friends and dozens of “likes” on her Facebook status gave her an ego boost. I asked which posting seemed to generate the most traffic. Her top three topics you may wonder; updates about her dog, complaints about her co-workers, and pictures of her homemade desserts. I have noticed my dog Shadow has quite a following and fan base on my Facebook page.

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Photographs from my adventures and backpacking trips also tend to generate a lot of attention, in addition to my random commentary on human behavior.

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It has been suggested when someone’s Facebook status highlights a personal trauma or an oppressive circumstance, Facebook friends offer minimal virtual support. In my experience, I have seen a community of caring, compassionate, supportive friends that have rallied around a Facebook friend in need. At the same time, I have also seen Facebook pages go silent when someone struggling with their mental health has cried out for help. Perhaps in some ways Facebook does emulate the real world, at times uncomfortable situations render us silent and visibly invisible.

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CONNECTED, RECONNECTED, AND DISCONNECTED

For me, Facebook offers three types of connection: connection, reconnection, and disconnection. Facebook has afforded me connections with like-minded individuals who might otherwise be strangers. Facebook has reconnected me with old high school friends and most recently my childhood best friend.

With that said, I feel the disconnection lies in the reality we spend more time commenting on social gossip and educating ourselves less about social issues and political news. Have we become less engaged politically and socially since Facebook? Has Facebook empowered our knowledge and increased our awareness, or has it served merely as a distraction from reality?

In 2014, my reality was living remotely. I learned you cannot hide in an outpost town, it’s simply easier to live as an open book. I chose to live the same way on Facebook, naked if you will. Perhaps by stripping down socially it has made me more open to experiences with strangers, and undoubtedly more willing to say YES to the unknown.

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4 thoughts on “PUTTING THE FACE INTO FACEBOOK FRIENDSHIPS

  1. Right on, Leigh…..You hit the proverbial nail on the head….I have about 10 people on Facebook who are friends I have a relational on the “ground” so to speak….There are a number of my FB friends that I would love to meet….face to face….for me, I believe it would be a wonderful experience to meet them…and perhaps establish a life-long friendship that is “real” as to just FB friendship….

    For me, personally, I would love to meet Kathy Baldock and have a long conversation, and perhaps a longtime friendship….I would love to meet Darlene Bogle….and Min and you and Shadow…..it would a fun and great experience for me….AND, as usual from a very ABLE person at saying what I couldn’t put into words, I loved your blog…..thanks for sharing!!! (from Barbie) PS There are many more that I would love to meet face to face….smiling

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  2. Once again a well researched and written article. This topic has been one I struggled with initially and now give a full body hug.

    Having avoided the days of MySpace, my first experience with social media was a meetup group I joined in 2008. I remember how uncomfortable I felt with the public posting of photos and comments. I was building a network of adventure buddies through the meetup group, but I was still reticent to call them friends. I was selfish with that word “friend.” It was reserved for those nearest and dearest, those I’ve spent much time cultivating, those I can reconnect with quickly after being out of touch for months or years, those who I shared holidays and special occasions, those with whom I sent cards and gifts, and those with photos littering my albums. I recall an incident at work once when a coworker was trying to categorize another as a friend and the one who considered otherwise said “a friend is someone who’s been to my house for dinner.”

    Upon joining Facebook in 2009, I added some of my local adventure buddies as friends. It was awkward and uncomfortable, but I’d at least met these people in person, played with them, and enjoyed sharing photos with them. In days gone by, I’d have called them acquaintances. Now I called them adventure buddies or Facebook friends.

    Fast forward to now when I have hundreds of Facebook friends who’ve enriched my life. I’ve met many through shared interest Facebook groups or blogs. There are few people in my community who understand my adventurous lifestyle. It’s been empowering to find so many others with the similar passions. Doors to many adventure opportunities have been opened due to this social media experience. Meeting these new online friends in person is so much easier after knowing our commonalities.

    It’s great fun to post questions about a new area and find places to visit and a network of new friends to visit and share adventures. I look forward to my trip to the southwest when you’ll be on my list. I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity of our introduction through Muk Muk, just one more person I connected with through social media and who now is considered a friend.

    Who will be my next BFF as a result of social networking?

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