Thursday, September 12, 2013

My Internet Friends

Today is Thursday, September 12, 2013.

It's true, the meaning of the word "friend" is getting an upgrade.  There have always been different levels of friends, but with the advent of social media, new types of friendships have sprung up.  Wikipedia notes, "While there is no practical limit on what types of people can form a friendship, friends tend to share common backgrounds, occupations, or interests, and have similar demographics."   

The hallmarks of a friendship include affection, sympathy, empathy, honesty, altruism, mutual understanding, compassion, enjoyment of each other's company, and the ability to express oneself or make mistakes without fear of judgment or rejection from other.   In other words, I like you, and I enjoy communicating with you.  I share your feelings.  It makes me feel good to know you're happy, and I celebrate with you when something wonderful happens.  When you're sad, frightened, wounded, or worried, I do what I can to help you or  comfort you, even if the only thing I can do is listen.  I know I can tell you honestly how I feel, even if we disagree on a particular point, because you will at least listen to me and give me the benefit of the doubt.  I, in turn, will listen to what you have to say, even if it is a little hard to wrap my mind around it.  

As we age, it is normal to spend less and less time just "hanging out" with our friends.  Our lives start to fill up with work obligations, family obligations, and community obligations.  We may have seen each other daily in the beginning, at school or in the neighborhood, but we're no longer in the same classroom or the same school.  We may not even be in the same town or the same state anymore.  But we continue to communicate, at least once a year.  

With Facebook and other social media, we have the option of staying in contact with people that we would otherwise only hear from once a year around Christmastime.  We have the option of continuing our association and cementing friendships with people we met at a seminar, a convention, a class, or a workplace, even though we no longer have the opportunity to see each other physically.  

We also have the opportunity to make new friends on social media, based on a common interest.  By the time I joined Facebook, I had already been a member of a couple of email lists on Yahoo where I met literally hundreds of people who are all members of my religion, Eckankar.  So when I joined Facebook, within hours I had friend requests from over 50 people.  A week later, I had some 300 Facebook friends, people with whom I had communicated for years on Yahoo.   I had met a great number of them at least once in person, at yearly Eckankar seminars.

 Then I began to get friend requests from ECKists whom I had never met.  A few of them I have since met at a seminar, but many of them are still "strangers," at least physically. Many of these people I have never heard from since, but I have continued to communicate with a small percentage of them on a more-or-less daily basis, and I am aware of their thoughts and various events in their lives that they have shared.  

I now have 721 friends on Facebook.  Only about 35 of these are actually family members, by blood or by marriage.  The rest are either teacher friends, writer friends, ikebana friends, Meetup group friends, Facebook game friends, blog follower friends, or ECKist friends.  By far the largest category is my group of ECKist friends, who number at least 650, and who come from all the continents of the world except Antarctica. I continue to get friend requests from ECKists.  When I don't personally know the one who requests Facebook friendship, my criteria for accepting the request is how many mutual friends we have, and these days I can afford to wait until that number climbs well over 50 before I accept.  If among the mutual friends, there is one friend I consider fairly "close," I can always write to the mutual friend and ask about the one who sent me the request.  Sometimes the person who requested friendship is one whose comments I have read on a mutual friend's wall and I realize that we have a lot of things in common.  I occasionally request friendship with others for this reason.  

Interestingly enough, none of my Facebook friends are people I met in childhood.  Only a couple of them are high school friends, and none of them was a friend or classmate from my undergraduate days at university.  Not many are grad school friends, either.  I suppose I could try looking up one or two from the old days, but with online friends, the main connection is things that we have in common now, not earlier in life.  I would only be interested in maintaining my connections from the past if there is still something in common today.  

My online friends, whether from Yahoo or Facebook, made it so much easier to transition from working to retired, and from living in Minnesota to living in South Dakota.  They provided encouragement and love as I made these changes, and I have appreciated the chance to chat with people late at night, when everyone around me is asleep and I have no one to be with me, physically.  My Facebook friends have stayed in contact with me while I was in the hospital, which I appreciated no end.  In some ways, that meant more than visits to my room, physically, because my online friends could contact me anytime, regardless of visiting hours. 

I have no idea how many of my online friends will actually read this post, but I'd like to take this opportunity to thank them, from the bottom of my heart, for their friendship, their love, their support, and their concern for my wellbeing. 

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