With the ever increasing popularity of social networking, the term friend has now been overused, misused and sadly abused.
My Facebook page maxxed out on the number of friends that can be accommodated by a single profile. And when I make a quick review of the five thousand people supposedly attached to me, receiving updates on my shoutouts, whereabouts and what-the-hell-I-am-all-about any given point of my living history, I realize that I barely know ten per cent of that grand total.
I guess for some it can be quite an achievement to boast of such numbers. That sort of trend has been going around since the time of Friendster (remember that?) or MySpace (that now sounds like ancient history). The more names attached to your page, the greater justification you have for earthy existence or so you think.
I wouldn't even think about the sheer number of Twitter followers I have --- over eight thousand --- which is really menial compared to other media people who actually foist the fact that they have hit the millions who get a constant update of their state of being in 140 characters.
But now considering how in a span of one week the local newscasts have consistently warned about the dangers of Facebooking and Tweeting, everyone begins to rethink if this is really quite a harmless diversion. Aside from all those social theories that say that too much time in front of the computer leads to a) the development of anti-social behavior due to isolationist practices and deprivation of actual human contact b) a form of deliberate escapism that can lead to much more complex personality disorders considering one usurps conscious time in virtual reality and c) really very bad eyesight --- the dangers have reached the level of physical threats.
Uhm, a tv-director-slash-actor was literally slashed and stabbed seventeen times by somebody he encountered in Facebook --- and a call center agent was tied, stabbed to death and robbed by her so-called boyfriend who she also encountered and chatted with from the same networking site.
Well, yes --- the dangers have always been there: you just don't invite anybody to the privacy of your abode if your level of familiarity has been limited to small floating windows on a computer monitor ... enhanced by webcams. You don't expand your circle of friends by collecting people from the internet --- because you might as well hold a soiree or a tertulla in a zoo. Inasmuch as there are some of us who have been emboldened to find a sense of adventure in meeting up with people they barely know out of a hope that something meaningful can come out of such gambles --- be assured that there are as many horror stories as there are fairy tale endings as far internet link-ups are concerned.
A friend of mine once said that the phenomenon of the internet age is that it made the art of blind dating extinct.
Quite true. Social network sites can turn into catalogs where one can easily browse through available merchandise and pick out the ones that (more or less) come closest to chosen specifications. There is always to the webcam in the messenger services or Skype to defy the challenge of distance and time zones. The world has become much, much smaller --- and dating has literally been computerized.
The act of ultimate culmination is the eyeball when the friends can finally get to meet.
Perhaps if we tried explaining to our grandparents what was meant by finally meeting face to face someone you call a friend, then they could not and would never understand. For anybody to say that requires either a lot of human trust ... or a sense of defiance and recklessness to scavenge whatever is out there in the virtual universe and hope that this would translate into tangible reality.
Ah, but there is where the sadness lies.
How easy it is to call anyone a friend nowadays. Whereas before, we were much more careful in discriminating people who we have to show niceness out of choice or out of circumstance. There are friends who we cannot help but befriend because we work with them, we need them in our jobs and there are social norms to follow ...
And there are also those who have occupied such special spaces in our heart, people who we tend to trust more than our relatives --- and most likely know more about the real us than anyone next of kin. Those were the handful who we truly branded as our true friends.
But certainly not all the 5000 names that fill up my profile page in Facebook. Or the 8000 who follow me in Twitter. They are people who think they know me because they know my name. My real friends have been around for more than half my life: unlike those found in social networking sites, they cannot be unfriended or erased.