Taking Back the Word “Friend” in 2014

A friend of mine who lives far away and who I haven’t seen in 8 or 9 years recently posted on Facebook that it’d been one year since her doctor became her hero. I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, but it sounded bad. It sounded like something I should have known about, but asking “what happened a year ago?!?” on her post seemed even worse. I asked her cousin when I saw him a few days ago, and he told me there was a benign tumor removed. That made me think — was I expecting her to post X-Rays and MRIs on Facebook? I realized that Facebook is not a substitute for actual interactions, but rather, a compliment. I was ashamed over my lack of effort into this friendship.

I enjoy social media, because I love people. I love hearing people’s ideas, experiences and drawing them into conversation, especially if I’ve never met them before. For a long time, I’ve been saying that social media has changed the way we get to know one another. In 2013, when I meet someone new for the first time, I don’t ask them questions to get to know them anymore. I just friend them on Facebook (and follow them on Instagram) and observe what they post for a month. After 4 weeks, I know exactly what to talk about next time I see them. I know what bands they like, trips they’ve been on, concerts they’ve gone to, restaurants they’ve been to, movies they’ve seen, and possibly even what they ate for breakfast. I’ll know what friends we have in common, so I don’t have to play that “do you know so-and-so” game. It eliminates a lot of questions that I would normally ask. But there’s an unintended side effect of this.

The problem is that what you learn from friending someone doesn’t actually count as a relationship. We’ve never shared an experience together, apart from our initial brief interaction. If we don’t connect again in the “Real World”, are we really friends?

Ted Rubin, in his blog post about taking back the word friend, specifically discussed 4 points and one thought-provoking question:

1. A friend is not just an audience.

2. A friend is not just a number.

3. A friend has shared interests.

4. Friendships require maintenance.

5. Would I want to be my own friend?

Right now, I have 215 friends on Facebook, and 232 followers on Instagram. I can’t keep straight who’s an “online” friend and who’s a Real Life Friend. Sometimes I’ll tell a Real Life Friend about an event we recently went to, and they’ll ask — “why didn’t you invite me?” and in that moment, I’ll realize that I posted an open invite on Facebook or Instagram — but they aren’t on social media. Even though their friendship is important , someone I’ve only met once is more likely to see what I’m doing on a regular basis than my Actual Friends are.

Sometimes, a Real Life Friend will mention to us what another “friend” is doing. “Oh yes,” I’ll respond. “I saw that. We’re Facebook friends.” However, the action that “Facebook friend” is taking doesn’t mean much to us because it doesn’t have any context — I didn’t grow up with them or even spend any time with them over the past few years. I don’t know anything about why the friend is doing what they’re doing, or how that fits into their overall personality. I’m just a follower.

In 2014, we have to take back the word “friend” from Facebook. We have to turn the definition of friend from “someone I’ve met a couple of times” or “someone who’s a friend of a friend” into Actual Real Life Friends.

Taking Back “Friends” from Facebook involves 2 things:

1. Turning Facebook friends into Real Life Friends. I met a guy named Mike at a party over the summer, we hit it off well, and he gave me an idea for something ridiculous. He said, “take two grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches, and put a hamburger in between them. It’s amazing.” Since I love bacon, hamburgers, and we own a grill, this seemed like a great reason to have him and his wife over. I friended him on Facebook, I followed him on Instagram. And I did nothing else. Why? No good reason.

2. Stopping the use of Facebook as a crutch for knowing what’s going on in the lives of my Real Life Friends. The example at the outset shows exactly why this is important. For me to be considered a friend, scrolling through my News Feed isn’t enough.

Small, frequent actions help accomplish goals. My actions will be to reach out to one “friend” per week, and make some kind of connection . That could consist of making plans, having a heartfelt conversation (“Real Talk” ™), or exchanging ideas and catching up.

I can’t do this alone. I need your help.

To take back the word “friend” from Facebook, we have to interact in Real Life, and we have get together with others to create shared experiences out of our comfort zone. We have to take risks, sharing about our true selves, letting our new or rediscovered friends be our guides into something we’ve never done or talked about before. That shared experience will be the new basis for our friendship. And then, we’ll get together again and have another new shared experience, and we’ll laugh and reminisce about our previous shared experience.

This is where you come in.

If you consider us friends, I need you to commit to helping me. We can meet up for coffee and catch up, or we can meet up for a beer. We can do something creative, or we can go to a new place and try to find something unique. Take me to your favorite hidden gems in your neck of the woods, or I’ll take you to mine. As a result, we’ll want to do it again, maybe with more people. I’ll meet your friends, and create experiences with them, and you’ll meet my friends.

And then, undoubtedly, we’ll go home, find our new friends on Facebook and follow them on Instagram.