You hear people dissing social media all the time.
People laugh at people who refer to people they have never actually met as “friends”. They mock the kids (and adults, too) who measure their social self-worth by their Facebook friends count. They speak with contempt about those who mention the number of Twitter followers they have.
They feel that only people you’ve realio-trulio shared meatspace with should be called friends.
They are wrong.
They are wrong because they do not understand the underlying basis to friendship.
It’s intimacy. It’s vulnerability. It’s honesty. It’s trust.
I’m sure that there is not one of you that has not at some point noticed the anonymity that faceless computer interactivity gives. It’s why trolls exist, and who among us have not faced down a cruel and relentless troll or three?
But this is a sword that cuts both ways.
That anonymity, that very separation that lulls a troll into believing that they are free to torment others online has another face – the face of being able to present yourself and your situation in words that you choose: words you can edit and hone and rearrange to say exactly what you need to, before you hit the “Send” button.
It’s the face of a kind of emotional freedom that died in the ’60s when writing letters longhand began to drop out of fashion, not to be revived until the era of email.
Social media is more than that, though.
We find our commonalities, our points of connection by way of memes and lols, by way of sad/happy faces and rows of hearts.
We skip past the giggling and the chit-chat. We start with the things that matter: our fears, our values, our core beliefs. Even in 140 characters, we leap past the superficial and into the real. We talk about the things that matter most.
Through that we find ourselves, and through that, we find our friends.
And we get close within very short time periods, a thing which the dissers seem not to believe in.
I have listened as “strangers” poured out their hearts to me in PMs, knowing that they can express freely to me just how terrified or desolate or – yes – joyous they are at something in their lives, without the fear that face-to-face brings. Some of my FB friends know things about me that no one else in the world does – in a matter of days, we can build a level of trust that a lot of the people in my world at home are not able to share.
I’ve wept with them, I’ve shared their triumphs, and I’ve helped out with cash sent via Paypal when I could and things were dire for them. And they have done the same for me.
It’s not about being able to give actual hugs in person, or the nights spent drunk in seedy bars.
It’s about honesty.
It’s about trust.
It’s about vulnerability.
It’s about intimacy.
Don’t believe me?
There’s some science for it. Check out the link at the end of this.
Granted, the original experiment was done with two strangers meeting in real time, and some of it obviously cannot apply, but the truth is that we very frequently connect via social media on a deeper and truer level BECAUSE we are separate and apart, yet somehow brave enough in our separateness, to be able to share on levels that it might take weeks or months to get to in a more “standard” friendship.
And we can form the bonds of love (all kinds of love) through the accelerated sharing of ourselves through wires and waves and modern miracles of technology.
It’s not a joke.