Friendships in the networked age

Contrary to general belief, I do not believe that friends are necessarily the people you like best, they are merely the people who got there first.
Peter Ustinov

That is the quote I got today on my iGoogle page.

It immediately struck me as true — at one time.

Back in olden times, most people grew up in the same town, followed in Dad’s career foot steps (or close to it), and everybody you met did pretty much the same thing. So the friends you made early tended to be the people you hung with throughout your life. Chances were, you even met your spouse at a young age.

Throughout much of my life, society hasn’t been that stable. I’ve lived in nine or ten different towns, attend 3 different colleges, spent 4 years in the Air Force, and held at least a dozen different jobs.

I’ve known a lot of people over the years.

When I think back to some of the friends I’ve had, first as a child and teen, then as a young adult, and I remember the good times and how I felt — I thought we would be friends forever.

Most of those people are completely out of my life now.

Today, I have friendships with people all over the United States, and some of these friendships go back more than a decade. In many cases, none of these friendships have been as deep, as personal or even as full of “the good times” that marked previous friendships, but yet they persist.

Why?

One word: Internet.

I started thinking about this when looking at the “friends” I have on Facebook. Facebook has a great feature that lets you view your friends on a timeline. I have Facebook friends I’ve known since 1995.

I have Facebook friends whom I’ve had those good times with, and shared deep, personal conversations, and I have friends I’ve only met in cyberspace. There are friends I’ve worked with and friends who I met at parties. There are people I may never work with or party with again, but they’re all important to me.

As I looked at that timeline page, I found myself wishing I could get all of my friends on Facebook, including those handful from high school or college that I’m still in contact with.

What a great tool for keeping up with my friends’ lives.

Sure, the Facebook mini-feed is more superficial than a late night phone call, or a weekly session at the corner pub. But we all know those rituals peter out over time. We all move on with our lives and develop new priorities.

But it’s still good to know that your friends are a-ok and doing interesting stuff. And it’s also nice to know they are easily reachable when needed, or when they need you.

Facebook strikes me as a something in between LinkedIn and MySpace. LinkedIn is all about professional connections. MySpace is all about making social connections.

MySpace has never interested me as much as LinkedIn, but LinkedIn is decidedly limited in keeping me informed on what my friends are up to. Facebook is feeling very much like a place where I can manage both my professional and personal relationships.

That’s coolly convenient.

The final point to all of this: When people tell you social networks are just a fad, feel free to laugh in their faces. Social networks have existed since at least the BBS days. The desire of people to make and maintain relationships online is deeply ingrained in our base instincts. It all goes back to the campfire. We want to share, and we want to know we’re part of a group, accepted and liked, because it’s part of the survival instinct.

If you’re newspaper.com isn’t helping people in your community make connections and feel connected, you’re falling down on your job.

One thought on “Friendships in the networked age

  1. I think there is some truth to this. I’m just playing with facebook a bit but I think it has great potential. I long for those deep, personal friendships, but we’ve all watched them disappear into thin air. Maybe this is one way to keep track. I hope so.

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