Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Friends Again

A while back I penned some thoughts on friendship. It turns out that like the relationships themselves my view on friendship continues to evolve. If you look at my facebook page it will tell you that I have 398 “friends.” Of these I have met all but three of them in real life. There is a group of these that I have not seen since high school. That group is further divided into people I did and didn’t really know very well in high school. There is another group of people I talk to regularly on facebook but never see. Corollary to that is the people I see all the time in real life but who are never on their facebook pages. I’m not the first to comment on how social networking sites have changed and possibly diminished the quality of friendship. I’m not here to hammer that point. I recently realized that all this “friending” had worked a subconscious change on me. I became very cautious about referring to people as “friends.”

I didn’t notice this change for a while though I did notice a little more precision in describing my relationships with people. For example when the topic of Andy Samberg comes up it usually comes up that we went to Berkeley High at the same time. For some reason I always feel compelled to emphasize that I didn’t really know him. I remember him being around but that’s about it. It’s a little weird for me because I’m a big fan of his work on SNL and I’m proud that he’s a BHS grad the same way I’m proud of my mom or Raymond Burr. In fact the first part of the Raymond Burr conversation goes pretty much the same as the Andy Samburg conversation:

Person: “Raymond Burr for some reason.”
SR: “Oh, he went to Berkeley High.”
Person: “Oh, neat.”

The difference is this:

Person: “Ha ha, I’m on a Boat. I love that guy.”
SR: “Oh, he went to Berkeley High.”
Person: “Really? What’s he like? Is he funny? Was he in the yacht club?”
SR: “I didn’t really know him.
Person: “…”

This is usually followed a few weeks later with Person telling someone “Oh, yeah Berto knows that guy.” Followed by me having to correct them. So what’s the point? Well I bet if I were to go on facebook and send a friend request to one of Andy’s (see we’re on a first name basis) buddies from The Lonely Island who I used to skate with, that guy would accept it. Then, if I sent a friend request to Andy he’d see we have that guy in common and he’d probably accept it. Heck, he might even remember me. Then, in the context of facebook we’d be “friends.” But in reality our relationship wouldn’t be any different than it is right now. By contrast, when the topic comes up, I readily tell people that my friend Malik was on the Real World. Because Malik and I really are friends. We hang out. We BBQ. I know his family and he knows mine. He has my WiFi password.

These distinctions don’t just apply to the semi-famous. I break all the people in my life into these categories. The thing is, it feels like a very antiquated and formal thing to do. Five years ago I would have just called anyone I knew, even a little bit, in high school a “friend.” Now they are “acquaintances,” or “classmates,” or “we were in a play together.” I didn’t really realize what I was doing until I wrote this for my other blog.

“I recently came across a former classmate of mine from Berkeley High on the internet. If she ever reads this I hope she’s not offended by my use of “classmate” and “Ms. Welch.” I still have a hard time using the title “friend” for people I haven’t heard from in 15 years. Besides, though we were friendly and spent a lot of time together one semester while working on a play I don’t know if we she would consider us old friends. Though we may become friends again now that we’re in touch. Or at least that version of friendship you can have between busy adults who live on opposite sides of the country.”

Oops. I used another example with a “public figure”. So maybe this whole article is really about my comfort level with name dropping or the appearance of name dropping. The thing is, the more “friends” I have online the fewer people I call friends in real life. There is some balance however. There are a few people I hardly knew in high school who I communicate with all the time on facebook. If not for social networking I would never have known how interesting they are. Of course, I never see them out in the world. I’ve thought about setting up some kind of happy hour for all of my facebook “friends” so we can all say we’ve seen each other at least once in the last fifteen years but after watching The Guild I don’t know how well that would go over.

I feel like I’m getting sidetracked. Where was I going? I think if we really analyze the issue we see that “friendship” isn’t necessarily diluted by social networking. Sure you end up being “friends” with a bunch of people you would otherwise just lose track of but is that so bad? It’s nice to be able to keep an eye and an ear on the comings and goings of people who were once a bigger part of your life. It’s also nice to get better acquainted with people who slipped by on the first run. And hey, if we all become a little more precise with our language that’s not a bad side effect either.

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