We collect friends like stamps

by +CrystalThieringer    @cdthieringer

I’ve been doing a bit of spring-cleaning on my blog, and found this early post. It reflects a conversation I’ve had with many friends, both online and off, about how the word “friend” has been changed by the introduction of social media. No one explains it better, in my opinion, than Shimi Cohen though. Here it is, from the archives. 

We’re collecting friends like stamps . . . and converting the deep meaning and intimacy of friendship with exchanging  photos and chat conversations.  By doing so . . . we claim to have many friends, while actually being lonely.

Shimi Cohen

I’ve had a few discussions with my closest friends regarding how social media is very anti-social.  The irony of raising it here is not lost on me, I assure you.

I’ve realized that while many people show an on-line status, for example, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are available to me.  This has been a challenging lesson for me.  I was one of the people who was connected and yet most definitely lonely.  My loneliness was perhaps amplified in that I was sometimes a shut-in for weeks at a time and depended on social media for my companionship. People were always afraid to call me, they said, because they didn’t want to wake me up. So I chose to only be “available” when I truly was.  I wasn’t the popular girl at the online party. Frankly, that wasn’t so different from my in-person life sometimes.

Does that sound like I’m feeling sorry for myself? Okay, sometimes. But mostly, I’ve accepted an opportunity to reclaim the original meaning of friend. It’s not a numbers game. It’s about mutual affection, caring and support.  The reason I raise this though, is because of Shimi Cohen’s next thought.

More and more people define themselves as lonely . . . thus, loneliness has become the most common ailment in the modern world.

Loneliness promotes depression. Depression and other mental health problems are significant and for many people can lead to self-injury or death.  In my case, it fostered a victim mentality in me and when I couldn’t get others to see where I was coming from, I realized I needed to make a change in my expectations of other people.  So I declared a social media moratorium for several weeks–and a permanent moratorium on certain platforms.

I want more in my life. Friendship–solid, joy-filled, blessed friendship–takes time. It requires effort but I believe it will be worth it. Sure, I have people who can see my pictures and my stories and what things I like or don’t. As a writer, I know I have to be okay with that.

But that, is mostly a numbers game. It’s not friendship.  I choose quality over quantity. Do you?

29 thoughts on “We collect friends like stamps

  1. I absolutely do. As a person who has never gotten into the online community thing except for my blogs, I’ve had to learn how important a Facebook post is to some people and, more than that, responding to their comments. Still, when it comes to relationships, i want hugs and Skype sessions and lattes shared across a table and laughter on the phone and long newsy emails or short answers to, “Please pray for me today, my friend.” Whether we “friend” people on Facebook or promise face-to-face, we just can’t get sloppy with relationships.

    1. As you’re pointing out, social media–soul media as you call it–has a place. It’s provided a way for you to have that community, and me too. I don’t have issues with that. I love how you’ve worded it–we just can’t get sloppy with relationships. Thanks for getting it!

  2. As always Crystal, I like the way you thoughtfully reflect and communicate that personal reflection. Nicely stated.

  3. *Sigh* I’m getting the feeling God wants me to take a break from facebook. This is the fourth time in two days that I’ve read/heard something about fasting or taking a break from social media. Did you and Mrs. Rue plan this? 🙂

  4. I want to say I choose quality over quantity, but I’m afraid I have sought out quantity to ensure I might have a better chance at getting quality. It is definitely a different world today. One where pop-ins or spur of the moment visits are no longer a thing of our culture. One where you make a call and almost hear the words, “What’s up?” meaning why are you calling. Is everyone self-protecting? Is everyone cautious. Good post Crystal.

    Still, with all the changes, there are still people who you could pick up the phone or message in an instant and you’ll find that you can pick up right where you left off, be it months ago, or in the case of some of my high school friends, years ago.

    Personally, I miss how it used to be, but it doesn’t look like we’re moving back there any time soon.

    1. How I love your transparency, Anne. I wonder if the pendulum will swing back some day. I find I still have friends I can visit after long absences, and it seems as though we’ve been apart for a day or two. There’s an ease I love, and we are able to fill up the time we have.

  5. I just finished watching the video. That was really something. I think people are very lonely and I do believe technology is adding to it. Thought provoking, Crystal.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to watch the video. I think it’s brilliant.

  6. Great post on something that is especially near and dear to my heart! I will take a few good friends any day. While I am passionate about this aspect, I like how you draw both sides of the situation into your writing, recognizing for some it may be the only way to connect at a moment in time.

    1. Yes, and for writers we need to have quantity as well, according to the “thou-must-have-a-platform” rules. There is a place for numbers, absolutely. I appreciate the online friendships I’ve made, and I consider them genuine relationships. As Nancy stated earlier though, there’s no room to be sloppy. Relationships take time and energy to build. I want more of that.

  7. Thank you for sharing these thoughts, Crystal. What a superb article. We are a lonely culture, even in person. People keep those earbuds in, and the message is clear: “Stay back, don’t interact with me.”

    How I appreciate the nudge to genuinely interact with real life friends and also to step it up with online friends. There’s so much more to relationships than sharing “boast posts” and “look-at-me” photos.

    1. How right you are, Laura. It’s hard to remember sometimes, that edited life isn’t necessarily real-life. On the flip side, we’ve experienced the encouragement that a quick and easy note can bring, when that’s all the energy we have to spare. Both have a place, and both add value. I’m grateful for my on-line community, and grateful for my face-to-face, across a cup of coffee friendships too–I’m seeking authenticity in both.

  8. Quality over quantity any day. Without going to look, I couldn’t even tell you how many Facebook friends I have but I can count pretty easily how many are truly my friends. Enjoyed this thought provoking piece.

    1. There’s nothing wrong with having a lot of them–and there are even good arguments for having high numbers. Kristen Lamb makes a compelling case for them, so I’d direct you to her blog for that. You are right though–regardless of the numbers, we need to know who are truly our friends. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Can we have too many friends? Well, judging by the number of FB “friends” I have, the answer is YES. Some of them I really don’t know well at all. I was the girl all the way thru college who only ever had one friend at a time. It wasn’t until after my second divorce that I reached out, and broadened my circle to include other girls from high school, and a few of us in My 500. I NEEDED support at that time, and online friendships blossomed.

    1. Author Kristen Lamb would suggest you can’t have too many online friends, and she makes a compelling case for it–an article she wrote long after this post first went live. I have many people on my FB feed I don’t know well, and that’s okay. The only thing that frustrates me about that is the redefining of the word “friend”. However, like you, I have online friendships for which I’m very grateful. I’m not knocking them down at all. A great part of my day is spent connecting in that way, so it definitely has a place. If they are authentic, i’m all for them–and I’m grateful you found support when you needed it. Yay for My 500 and now, for Webher, yes?

  10. I know for me, technology is actually shining a spotlight on my isolation and, yes, loneliness. I’ve always known my “network” has been sparse (My closest “2AM friend” lives 900 miles away from me), but it wasn’t until I got involved with social media that I began to see how thin those connections really are. And yet, having said that, I have made such incredible friends via social media who probably know me better than people who see me every day. It’s quite a paradox to be sure and one I’m not entirely certain how to resolve.

    I would love a different word for “friend” other than the definition that seems to be offered by modern society. Maybe it’s because I am such an introvert, but “friend” is a title I don’t hand out on a whim. It typically takes a long time – months, if not years – for someone to move from close, but casual companion to friend. Not many people appreciate the difference. “Acquaintance” seems too impersonal, but “friend” is so important to me, I can’t call just anyone my friend. I usually end up “qualifying” the relationship, by identifying the context in which I know someone. Thus, someone I ride with a lot, but don’t necessarily get into deep meaningful conversations with, becomes a “biker friend.” Someone that I share a love of wordplay and writing with becomes a “writer friend.” And that makes me feel a little fractured.

    I’m so very grateful for groups like WEBHER that allow me to make those associations in a context that feels organic and makes sense to me. It definitely keeps the stress to a minimum, that’s for sure!

    Very good post, Crystal. Thank you.

    1. Carryl, I’m like you–I end up qualifying the relationship. Someone is an FB friend, a writing friend, a church friend, but I only have a handful of people that I call friend without qualification, and those are the people that I hold most dear. It is a paradox, and one I’m not sure will be easy to resolve. That said, you are one of my Webher friends–and I’m very grateful for you. I’ve learned much from your series, and have appreciated your insight into some challenging subjects. Won’t it be great to meet in person some day, perhaps to bridge to the place where qualification won’t seem necessary? Yeah, I’d like that a lot.

  11. Ya, this is why I jumped off of the social media crazy-train right before the A to Z Blog Challenge. You raise a great point about friends. Honestly, I’ve been enjoying much deeper moments of connection with live people and have concluded that even if others can maintain 150 friendships, I’m good for far fewer. I would rather take pictures of the birds tweeting than spend my time on Twitter, would sooner face the anger, joy or sadness of people in real time than be on Facebook, and am actively searching for new ways to engagement which are a better match for my personality and integrity. Absolutely quantity over quality (said as I nurse my way back from burnout.)

    1. We’ve both experienced that at different times. Finding the balance is so important. You’re a good leader in that!

  12. I think there are levels or circles of friendship and acquaintanceship. My innermost circle of true and deep friends is small indeed…as it should be, I think. Is it Bob Goff who talks about “the 8”? (Ostensibly there’s room for about 8 people around your deathbed. Who are those 8 you’d like to have there?) I teach high school, which means I know that even face-to-face friends aren’t always real and true and certainly not forever. Many of those are just friends of circumstance, and when kids graduate and leave school, they leave many of those temporary friendships behind. I don’t like temporary. I want real and deep.

    1. What a thought–who are the 8 people around your deathbed. I’m not sure I could handle 8, or like your grandmother, an entire choir (though every time I think of that I get goosebumps!). I sometimes think the best I can hope for is two or three people who love me deeply.

      As I’ve said, the social side of social media has it’s place. I respect that, even though I had to wrestle with it for a while. I’ve done that, learned and grown from it. There are friends of circumstance–a great phrase–and there are friends who are true and deep. Like you, I want real. I don’t care where I find them!

      Thank you for such a thoughtful response.

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