Friday, July 25, 2008

Friendship in the Era of Facebook

I've made a lot of friends in the past few weeks since my kids bumped me into the world of Facebook--some 115 of them as of now, according to my profile. I barely know many of these friends, have never met some of them, and am only connected to others through secondary sources by way of family, schools, churches, or geography. Requests come like a rock dropped into the sea, ever widening ripples of friendship that threaten to ultimately befriend me with the entire human race. No way can I keep up with birthday cards to a Rolodex like that.

It is kind of an eerie feeling to receive a note from someone unknown to me who wants to be my friend. I wonder what leads to such requests. I always look to see what connections may have prompted this invitation. In most cases the link becomes obvious, the person virtuous, and the contact harmless. If I turn down the request, which is easily done, what kind of a jerk am I?

On the other hand, if I agree to be a "friend" to such as these what does that say about the meaning and significance of friendship? I discovered a fellow traveler in a New York Times piece by David Carr, "Hey Friend, Do I Know You?" Carr's questions mirror my own. He writes:
As we speak, my Facebook page, a couple of months old, is crawling past 200 friends. There are people on there whom I have known since they wore skinny ties and distressed sport coats, and there are others whom I would not know if they walked up with name tags the size of sandwich boards. But we have friends in common, and in the parlance of social media, we are connected.
The whole piece is well worth reading. I know that this new era of social networking is causing a fresh assessment of relationships, a new map that has the potential of building bridges of peace. Of course, one must also acknowledge that there is a darker side that must be monitored as well. That which heals us can also harm us.

So we'll see how this goes. There is much here to engage us in thoughtful reflection about relationships, community, and human worth.

I am glad to have new friends. However, if I fail to send a Christmas card I trust you'll understand.