Reach out and poke someone. Be more than a virtual friend, do not be satisfied with virtual friendship. It is not my intention to slam social networking groups such as Facebook and Twitter, but I want to look at real friendship.
Just last night I was online, I wasn’t really doing anything, I was just looking around on Facebook. Suddenly, while writing on my friend’s wall, I noticed that the person who had written on her wall before me was someone whom I had met and spoken to once or twice. At least I was pretty sure I recognized them from their picture. I instantly clicked on the “friend” button next to their name. Good, another person to add to my list of “friends” that I don’t know!
I have virtual friends. So do you. They are virtually friends. I suppose that means they are almost friends – almost, but not quite. That’s what the word virtual means. Or we could say they are electronic friends, e-friends.
Something has happened to the word “friend.” Something has happened to friendship. The word “friend” is now not only a noun, but a verb. We do not simply have friends, we “friend them.” A true friend is defined by the New Age Elizabethan Reference Dictionary as “One attached to another by affection . . . an adherent . . . a promoter . . . anything that helps one, especially in an emergency.”
Today I want to inspire you not to be caught up in what are merely virtual friendships, but to cultivate and value what is true, our real friends. I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I am online I sometimes find myself talking to random people. I just talk to them because they are there.
A friend is not defined by how many times a week you “poke” them, or how frequently they “like” your status. Ben Johnson said, “True friendship consists not in the multitude of friends, but in their worth and value.” Commenting on someone’s latest photo-tag, or following their witty tweets, may be fun, but it is trivial. Mindless. Frivolous. There is little engagement of the mind. There is no proving of worth and value in the living of real life. There is only amusement. And amusement is not friendship. It is a subtle form of exploitation. It is selfish. In July 2007 MySpace booted out of its system 29,000 sex offenders who had signed up for memberships using their real names. There is no way of knowing how many sex offenders registered onto Facebook or MySpace under fake names. Real friendship swirls around real values.
What is the value and worth in a friend when the most you know about them is that they are looking for “random play?” Henri Nouwen writes:
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
I ask you today, are you a friend like this one? Are you willing to share the pain, sorrow, and confusions of the people that you care about? Can you be that kind of friend? Or are you satisfied with compiling a list of “top friends” and “liking” their Facebook status every now and again?
A few months ago I read an essay, published by “The New Atlantis Journal” called Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism. One of the major points that the author, Christine Rosen, brought out was that social networking is the new form of self portraits. Our online identity is a digital self-portrait. Perhaps that is really me or perhaps that is what I want you to think. Perhaps we are not really being friends as much as we are tweaking our online portrait and gazing at our own reflection in a pool.
I am, of course, not saying that there is anything wrong with social networking, but I am inspiring you towards something more powerful, a real friendship. A good friend will bring you up when you think too lowly of yourself. A good friend will bring you down when you think too highly of yourself and threaten to fly away. A good friend is present in your life, there when you need them, a virtual friend is, by nature, an absent friend. A good friend is a precious gift from God Himself, and ought not to be treated lightly, but with respect and love. Ecclesiastes 6:14 says, “A faithful friend is a strong defense: and he that hath found such an one hath found a treasure.” I encourage you to be such a friend as this, and to seek out friends who are like this. Reach out and poke someone – go on, see what happens.