quickie: what’s a friend?

just a few quick thoughts here, inspired by my twitter friend todd. in his tweetings today and his most recent blog post, he talks about a social media tool called friendfeed.

“friend” is a word that’s used a lot in social media. often it’s just the name that you give a contact on whatever social media watercooler(s) you use. some people have 5,000+ friends, like geek guru robert scoble (and yes, i’m one of his twitter, um, friends.)

so we’re redefining the word friend. seriously. at least in the social media sphere and its circle of influence, which is pretty much everyone in north america, and a large portion of the population in other english-speaking countries, as well as western europe.

so what’s a friend? who’s a friend?

i count among my best and closest friends a woman about 2,000 kilometres from here whom i have never met in person.

a friend of mine calls someone a close friend who she grew up with and lived with for a while but now they both don’t take the time to contact each other at all; once every three years or so they run into each other and talk as if nothing had happened.

through blogging, i have made friends with people who otherwise i would have never met, even though they’re in vancouver. my life is richer for having met them.

someone else i know spends lots of time on internet forums; it’s 80% of her social life.

i have a friend who i’ve known and been close to since grade 1. the fact that most of our lives we’ve lived in different countries is unfortunate but doesn’t diminish our friendship.

on twitter, i follow about 300 people. are they all my friends? well, yes, in a way. but there are some whose tweets i follow more avidly than others. it’s hard to follow what 300 people do, and sometimes i wish there was some tier system. tier 1 could be, “a day without hearing from them is a bad day” and tier 10 “sure, i don’t mind hearing about you once in a while.” urgh, that sounds heavy.

but in a way we’re doing that for our non-online friends already anyway, right?

what do you think?

(this post was included in a LinkedIn carnival

18 thoughts on “quickie: what’s a friend?

  1. Evan

    I invented a new word, “prendship”.

    A prendship is a permanent relationship that is a friendship. I was provoked into doing this by realising that friendship covers such a huge degree of closeness – from people we haven’t spoken to for years to relationships that are more lasting and sometimes more profound than a marriage.

    Hence prendship – feel free to use it without acknowledgement.

    Evan’s last blog post..A Psychological Health Checklist: awareness, spontaneity and intimacy

  2. isabella mori

    @chris – well, the crazy thing is that on the one hand, there is more monetization but on the other hand, there are truly more good connections out there than before. i probably would have never met you but for web 2.0!

    @evan let me see if i understand – so someone with whom we have a permanent, active, affectionate and intentional relationship (other than a spouse or a relative?) is a prend? for example, the friend i mentioned who i’ve known for over 40 years?

    btw, i just connected with someone on LinkedIn who i have known for about 2 years, someone from our bloggers meetup. we run into each other there and other social media places, we’re both on twitter, i would definitely recognize him in a crowd. in pre web 2.0 terms i would call him an acquaintance. (imagine THAT on facebook or twitter – i propose these two applications would have never gotten where they are today if they’d call these contacts “acquaintances”).

    not surprisingly, LinkedIn also does not have a category “acquaintance”. so this is what i included as part of my introduction:

    “when LinkedIn asked me how we know each other, i was going to say through the bloggers meetup but it won’t allow me to do that. so i said we’re friends. hope that’s ok.”

    the reason why i did that was partly because of my heightened sensitivities around the word “friend” but also because i had just gotten an email from someone whose name i couldn’t recognize who wanted to connect with me on LinkedIn saying they were a friend. that felt a little strange …

  3. Raul

    Dearest Isabella,

    Musing about the word friendship is something I do with a close friend (a prend of mine, as Evan would categorize him) very, very often. I find that the word “friend” is way too vague and therefore we need the qualifiers “facebook friend” or “blogo-friend”.

    I consider you, for example, a close friend. You are someone I met through the blogosphere, whom I’ve grown to care for, and whom I admire a lot. Same thing has happened with a number of other blogosphere-friends.

    I have a Theory of Concentric Circles, that assumes that those closer to me are in the inner circles. Those friends who are less close are in the outer circles. I have modified this theory to reflect the fact that, through time, a lot of friends can change their closeness yet still remain friends. That would mean that the concentric trajectory may not be a circle but an ellipse.

    I also think that friend is NOT someone you know for a few weeks or whom you don’t really have an interaction with. If you notice on my Twitter, the number of people I actually follow is pretty much (with the exception of two or three in the US) people with whom I’m friends in real life, friends I met through the blogosphere.

    I have now a lot more Twitter followers than people I follow because I haven’t had a chance to really meet them in person and follow them reciprocally, in general.

    Ok, this was way too long of a comment and I haven’t had coffee yet. Hope to have contributed to the discussion!

    Raul’s last blog post..Persuade Me: Why and how should I join Facebook?

  4. phd in yogurtry

    I think I count as friend someone I confide in. We share confidences, intimate dialog about what is REALLY happening in my life. And yes, sometimes these are internet (never been met) friends. This is the fabulous part about the internet. Like minds can meet without having to actually be in the same room.

    phd in yogurtry’s last blog post..please sir, I want some more

  5. ashok

    Right now I’m in that fun ambiguous stage with a woman where I’m probably a “friend,” and I definitely want to be more than that, but it depends on me being recognized and valued as a true friend.

    ashok’s last blog post..Going. Back?

  6. isabella mori

    @raul – thanks for your kind words. i like the idea of the eliptic-circle-friends! and no, it wasn’t too long of a comment. just like when we’re with friends, we don’t use a timer and tell them to stop after 197 seconds 🙂

    @PhD the point about intimacy is interesting, especially, again, in connection with services like twitter and facebook. as much as i honour my twitter friends (twitter isn’t my home page for nothing) i wouldn’t say that i experience intimacy there.

    @ashok – i was thinking about you as i was writing this post, actually. you are one of my very first and treasured blogging friends. and that even though we are so different, on so many levels …

    what you say reminds me of the expression “just” friends. to me, true friendship (prendship?) is the highest form of relationship.

    “recognized and valued” – yes, that’s what happens in true friendship. i saw this sappy movie last night and one good thing in it was helen hunt saying about the new man in her life, with this intent expression: “he sees me.”

  7. Janet Barclay

    This is a wonderful post! While I was writing the post I’ve linked to here, it did seem to me that I was using the word “friend” inconsistently, and you’ve helped me realize that social networking as really redefined what a friend is.

  8. isabella mori

    hi janet, thanks for the comment!

    i think this redefinition of “friend” is very much in flux. i don’t think we would have had this p;ost a year ago. so let’s make a date – let’s see where “friends” are in june of 2009!

  9. Pingback: the meta of twitter

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