Friending or Friendship?

Every morning for the last six months or so, when I open my email I find a number of requests from total strangers who want to ‘friend’ me (yes, it’s a verb now). Sometimes we have someone in common. But just as often, the person found me via Friend Finder and was motivated by something in my profile to reach out.

Although I find it difficult to resist opening my Facebook page when I get these messages – funny how that happened! — I’m inclined to turn down request when I don’t know the person, and I don’t bother to open the profile. Nonetheless, by the time I’ve checked the messages and read and responded to some of the wall posts, perhaps 15-20 minutes have elapsed. Enough time for a real conversation on the phone (or Skype), or a thoughtful email exchange. Perhaps even a handwritten note. You remember those don’t you? Back in the day. According to the USPS, there was a drop of 2 million pieces of first class mail from the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2009. Goodbye, snail mail?

What we are doing to stay in touch with one another is embracing social media, Facebook, MySpace, even Twitter. These are catching on so quickly with older users, there is even advice for people whose children refuse to ‘friend’ them. We may be the fastest growing demographic in the use of Facebook and its ilk – here’s a new one, — but I wonder whether it is creating better friendships or just more online friends. Unless you’re looking for work or running for office, the value of a very large group of people you don’t know well is exactly what? Fellow global villagers, help me out here.

Mostly, I enjoy finding, or being found by, people I’ve known in the past. I like hearing from classmates, former neighbors, yoga students and colleagues. But after you’ve caught up, what then? True, some of your online friends are also the ones who will help you when you move, water your plants or feed your pets when you travel. They may be the ones who bring a casserole to you when you’re recovering from surgery or a broken heart. They may be the patient souls who listen on the phone when you need to vent. And you would do the same for them, not as a quid pro quo, but because there is a mystery and wonder about friendship that needs feeding, tending and celebration. And if you choose to share, comment or ‘tweet’ about your good fortune at having such friendships, you’ll have plenty of company.

Here’s a quote that captures the ineffable, enduring essence of friendship:

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” — Georgia O’Keefe

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