A ‘friend’ for everyone

AT RANDOM: Lifestyles editor Katherine Mortimer on real friends versus Facebook 'friends'

Writer C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

My mother once said if you have one very good friend, count yourself lucky. She also said it takes a long time to get to know someone, so don’t be too quick in sharing your deepest secrets.

One wonders what Lewis, who died almost five decades ago, would wonder about the current state of friendship in the age of social media.

I know what my mother would have thought. She was happy to be able to e-mail her grandchildren and check things online, but there is no way she would have given Facebook more than a passing glance. She was always advising us to “keep your own counsel,” and not give away too much of ourselves to people we had just met. So I guarantee that would have extended to Facebook, Twitter and the many other sites out there where we are encouraged to share every aspect of our lives, from the sublime, such as photographs of our children on our FB page, to the ridiculous, such as a B celebrity Tweeting about her manicure.

I like Facebook, but must admit I’m not a compulsive user of it. It’s fun to check out friends’ photos or see what my niece and nephew in Calgary are up to. Although now that they are adults, I sometimes have trouble reconciling that fact with my fond memories of caring for them when they were babies.

And when I’m standing in line to get my driver’s licence renewed or anywhere else I’ve forgotten to bring something to read, it’s fun to go on Twitter and check out what some of my favourite personalities are saying. A very subjective list to be sure, but Simon Pegg, Stephen Fry, Rick Mercer, Kurt Sutter, Miss Kelli Jones and The Onion all keep me amused.

There is a narcissism inherent in all social media. None of us posts unflattering photographs of ourselves, although I’ve noticed that friends are happy to do that for us. Likewise with Twitter, we assume the world is fascinated by what we have to say. Apparently, many people want to know what Paris Hilton has to say. I don’t follow her, but a quick check with Google reveals that she has more than eight million followers, hanging on to her earth-shattering Tweets like this one, “Had such a fabulous time in St. Tropez.”

And with Facebook, there seems to be a competitive aspect to acquiring friends. I don’t particularly want hundreds or thousands of people looking at my page, seeing my family photos. And I’m happy to reject someone’s friendship if they know me only vaguely.

The problem I have is when someone requests my friendship, I hit the confirm button and send along a personal message, and get nothing in return.

The most egregious example of this acquisition of FB friends occurred recently when I confirmed the friendship and did not get a message in return, but instead was informed that this person had “Liked” my message. I mean, really? Are people that busy that they can’t take the time to fire off a few lines?

Why do I need to be friends with someone I haven’t seen in years, probably for a good reason, and probably will never see again. The happy exception to that a very good friend of mine who lives in the U.K. and with whom I had lost touch. I was thrilled to reconnect with her on Facebook, but now we just e-mail each other and talk on the phone when we can.

There are few businesses — including newspapers — which are able to function without also being tapped into social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. They’re a useful and necessary part of doing business, but having 1,000 friends on Facebook will never replace the real thing.