In the age of social media, the word “friend” has pretty much been redefined. Who can you really call a friend these days?
Since the days of AOL Chat Rooms, how we view our friendships have changed. Look at the evolution of Facebook and how relationships were managed. Initially, you could only connect with students at your college or university. This meant that your relationship was kept to people that you’d potentially socialize with, see around campus, or share classes with. Then, on September 26th, 2006, Facebook opened access to anyone 13 years or older, enabling everyone across the country to be friends. Now, just under thirteen years later, with over 1.7 billion active users, no one could have anticipated how “friends” would be revolutionized.
What defines a friend? If you looked in the dictionary in the 90’s, you would see something very similar to this definition: “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.” Now, twenty years later, online dictionaries adds this to the definition of the word friend: “add (someone) to a list of contacts associated with a social networking website.” Social networking has deteriorated the value of friendships, seemingly removing very personal aspects of what previous generations have defined as a friend. The first definition that I shared stated that you “know” someone. Older generations would describe knowing someone as having a personal relationship, someone that you see or associate with. The same can be said for younger generations. The key difference between generations is that some of these people have never physically met.
Social media has connected so many people across the globe, and people become associated with each other without ever having been in the same room. But what makes them a friend? One television show proves that it is extremely hard to become a “friend” from social media. Catfish. It’s hard to believe that a show like Catfish still exists in 2016, but it is proof that the internet is not a friendly place. Neither is the world for that matter. Many will argue that the same people who flash false personas online would do the same exact thing in the “real world,” but you have to admit that it would be much harder to perpetuate a false reality in front of my eyes than it would be on a computer screen. With apps like Skype and WhatsApp, and FaceTime or Google Hangout on every smartphone, it’s hard to make an excuse as to why you can’t be seen. But, even being seen doesn’t give you a full insight into a person. It just allows you to put a face and voice with a name and image that has been broadcast through a social media profile. Spending time with someone, taking time to learn their mannerisms, those are the things that build a friendship. Some things truly cannot be achieved through online relationships alone.
We know that it’s possible to find love online, as eHarmony boasts that one of every three relationships now begins online, and Tinder is on almost every smartphone. It would probably be surprising to see how many of those relationships begin and ultimately fail, given that the divorce rates have skyrocketed with the trend of digital dating. With continued advancements in technology, where will our friendships develop from in the future? While that remains to be seen, we do know that without defining what a friend truly is to you, the definition of a friend will ultimately continue to change.