Friends come and go. They always have.
They just do it more quickly in social media. And often with more fireworks.
While sites such as Facebook have helped people stay connected, particularly with old friends, social media platforms also can be quite anti-social: A recent survey says 78 percent feel folks are ruder online than in person, and two in five people have ended online relationships after a squabble.
Easy come, easy go? It’s easy to sign up as someone’s friend online, and just as easy to sign off, especially since you can do it without seeing them or even announcing it to them.
But there may be other factors at work that make social media relationships so volatile.
One is that we’ve certainly stretched the definition of “friend.” Is a friend really someone you trade political barbs with but never break bread with? Can you really maintain hundreds of friendships? And is a friend of a friend really a friend? Many of us have Facebook “friends” we don’t know and haven’t met.
The truth is, your stable of true friends is probably the same as before; how many of your Facebook “friends” would bail you out of jail or help you paint your house?
In addition, it’s much easier to be brusque with someone through a keyboard.
Well, brusque or flat-out hateful: After famous pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, lost his son to suicide recently, the hate and gloating expressed online was just shocking to the core. No one deserves that kind of treatment, certainly not as kind and good a man as Rick Warren and absolutely not in a time of such seering grief.
That brings up another problem with social media and other nooks and crannies of the Internet: Armed with a keyboard and a modem, people utterly forget themselves. They think they’re in a position to tell Tiger Woods something he doesn’t know about golf.
Social cues that might otherwise alert us to the fact that we’re way out of line – all it used to take was a raised eyebrow – are perilously absent online. Meanwhile, anonymity provides the ignorant with a cocoon against his own folly.
It is not condescension, but rather a word to the wise, to suggest that we should know our place.
One must wonder, too, whether the skill of argumentation is too closely held in society. Unless you were one of a select few on a school’s debate squad, you might have graduated without ever being taught the finer points of forensics. The Latin “argumentum” doesn’t mean fighting; it means “evidence, ground, support, proof; a logical argument,” according to one etymology dictionary.
To make matters worse, after not being taught in school how to argue, we see talking heads on television yell and name call and get emotional while debating the most trivial matters. Our politicians, aided by the let’s-fight media, have wholly demonized each other and our various stances on the issues.
All this incivility and inept arguing can’t help but seep like undergound pollution into many lives, even into our purely social pursuits.
It’s incumbent upon us to rise above all this noise – to realize that while we can and always will have disagreements with others, it makes no sense to put so much emotional stock in most of the positions we take. We can be plain-spoken and principled without being rude and insulting. We often talk of disagreeing without being disagreeable, but do we do it?
And when technology gets between us, go the extra mile to remember there’s a human being on the other end.
Friend or otherwise.