Second Opinion: Real friends trump virtual friends any day

Dr. April Sanders looks at Facebook and the rush for its users to add 'friends,' but says the real thing is always better

And let your best be for your friend.

If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.

For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?

Seek him always with hours to live.

For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness. — Khalil Gibran

Sometimes when I don’t expect it, the TV news breaks my heart. Recently, a woman described her anguish over a daylong interruption in her Internet service. She sat with her computer, alone and small, in her drab living room and relayed to the reporter the story of how, for an inconceivable 24 hours, she had been unable to contact any of her 800 Facebook friends. This was not an inconvenience for her; it was a wound that left a gaping hole in her life. As I listened to her experience, I was profoundly affected by the story beneath the story, the real one, about loneliness. Why was no one discussing that? Here was an individual who, when severed from her virtual “friends,” did not have a living human being to call upon. That, to me, was news.

I tired to imagine a day in the life of an individual with 800 Facebook friends. Alone in cyberspace, logged on to Facebook mining other people’s lives for the hope buried in inspirational quotes, the vicarious happiness of other’s holidays, families and parties all with the nasty bits of real life (the parts where you are at odds with your family, work at a stressful job, have a mood disorder or are alone) scrubbed out. Or perhaps instead, I’d imagine being someone who preferred to zero in on cyber friends who aren’t shy about their chaotic lives and talk nonstop about painful issues. That might make me feel more together and thus, superior.

Regardless of which path I chose, I hope at some point I would take a step back from my virtual life and remember that real friendships, unlike virtual friendships, are not free of commitment. Real friends want me to share with them my presence, my support, my time, my love or just a phone call. A friendship exists because two people have chosen to invest in each other and in the giving, are both rewarded. It is the reciprocity between two individuals that cements the bond of friendship and makes it one of the most rewarding of human experiences.

Never before the advent of Facebook could a single human claim to have 800 friends and at the same time, none at all. I am lucky to have a handful of friends and for me, they are everything that I need.

When it comes to friendship, if the Internet was down, I would not notice. Along with my family, my friends guarantee that I am never alone.

Dr. April Sanders writes on a variety of topics for The Morning Star. She is a physician at Sanders Medical Inc. Vein and Laser in Vernon, B.C.