A recent Facebook study reports a dramatic change in the connectedness of society. What used to be the proverbial “6 degrees of separation,” representing the number of people in a friendship chain, at least among the 1.2 billion Facebook users, is now 3.74 degrees. Essentially, this means “when considering another person in the world, a friend of your friend knows a friend of their friend.”
It’s a small world after all.
The mathematical change in the friendship factor, however, is also accompanied by a definitional change. We may, indeed, be closer in proximity to one another, at least in cyber terms, but are we also “friends” in the traditional sense of the word? I think not. I’ll be the first to admit that social media contacts are not necessarily as social as we perhaps would like.
In reality, we may be more acquainted with the world’s inhabitants, but we are no better connected in meaningful ways with people than a rogue bird joining a flock flying south for the winter.
That kind of begs the question, doesn’t it?
What constitutes “friendship?” Certainly it’s more than acquaintance or a mathematically equated number. And if you’re on the internet, you’ve encountered thousands of memes, captioned in pretty pictures, describing traits of good friends. Yawn.
Once, in my own mini-experiment, I posted two back to back posts immediately following one another. The first was a simple request of anyone who might be nearby at some point in the day, to give me a lift to a destination not a mile away. The second was a funny kitten picture I had captioned. Now, I live immediately off the busiest part of the freeway where traffic is constant and I made it clear that the very short ride could be offered at any time of the day that might be convenient. My “friend list” on Facebook numbered about 600 at the time and it was a public post for widest possible reach to those who might make an offer, suggestion or even a good excuse why they could not.
On that first post for a ride, I received one “like” and no comments. The cute kitty got a whopping 36 likes and a dozen adorable comments. I can only presume that the same people who saw the first also saw the next.
Certainly, this was no scientific experiment nor did it prove much at all except maybe my original point…that friendship is redefined, like it or not.
I have always been an advocate of what I call “revelational friendship.” In my program of study for my graduate degree, we learned there are different levels of communication, with each successive level indicating a greater likelihood of commitment to a relationship. The first level, cliché communication included basic niceties like “Good morning,” “How are you?” and “Nice weather, eh?” Basically, stuff one says to acknowledge another but not commit to a conversation or, really, much more. The second level, “informational sharing,” would suggest a need to communicate a fact or notice to someone but without a need nor expectation for reciprocation. “The boss is out today,” “Joanie needs picked up after volleyball,” and “I’ll bring the main dish to the picnic.” The level of commitment to the receiver is minimal and no self disclosure beyond the facts is offered. The third level, includes the “sharing of ideas” which thrusts us into a potential for risk. “I like the Rolling Stones,” or “Green is my favorite color, “ or “Let’s do it this way,” are all simple statements which could be disagreed with or disapproved of. In this level, the communicator takes a calculated risk that the receiver will not attack with an opposite or condemning view.
It’s at this point when I think friendship begins to emerge.
Now before I finish with the last two levels, think of the comments you observe on most social media posts you see. Exactly. With a few exceptions, this is where most end.
The fourth of five levels: “sharing emotions.” “I feel a little scared,” or “It’s just sad that this is happening,” or “I can’t take it any more,” would be indicators that either you or the other party is endeavoring to trust each other with a highly rejectable and risky statement of feeling. Remember, feelings, in and of themselves, are neither right nor wrong. They are, very simply, your own. Most won’t share much on this level unless it’s with someone they trust or at least, would like to trust. Have you ever seen a Facebook reply to someone’s emotional issue with “You shouldn’t feel that way!,” or “Don’t worry, be happy!” These are excellent examples of why social media, generally speaking, is no place for expectation of intimacy.
There are many “friends” who elect to remain behind their cyber walls and profiles, never to meet, never to offer any meaningful response or assistance and very likely, never to receive any.
Friends in deed
are friends, indeed.
Recently, my church ran a teaching series called Love Does, titled after the book by Bob Goff. The challenge was to reach beyond mere words of love to make them tangible demonstrations in our friendless world. As a culminating action, 2,000 of our men, women and children invaded our community with acts of caring, help and kindness.
Abraham Maslow proposed people can’t “hear” any bigger message than their current level of need allows. Those without a bed to sleep in or a meal to eat simply cannot hear any message beyond until those basic human needs are met and satisfied.
So as friends of the community, all 2,000 put in a long day of concentrated, hard labor at a few select locations in the valley in order to make a dramatic difference in the lives of needy people and a demonstration of the power of people who, together, put their friendship into action. Love does.
It’s a verb.
Let me summarize by suggesting a couple things.
First, lower your expectations for social media connections. It ain’t happening. Get out there and actually meet someone in person. Don’t expect social media friends to be a true reflection of your value, likeability or expectation of who will, indeed, come through at the toughest moments.
Second, invest most in those who invest most in you. This is not to suggest ignoring others, but if your money was time and you wanted to make the most of it, you’d put it where the best returns are most probable. Build a portfolio of friends at all levels and hold fast to those who take tangible emotional and behavioral risks to be there for you.
Finally, stop saying and start doing, regardless of reciprocation. The world is becoming an evermore connected place of people open to influence. If you have a message to share, first share yourself in deed to the other. They’ll be more apt to listen to your words as a result.