A recent study tried to uncover a connection between the number of people’s Facebook friends and real life friends.
According to the study, the average person has around 150 Facebook friends but only 14 of these friends would give a fig if something good or bad happened to us.
Well, not really.
Over the years, social media has altered what we have known and acquired for many generations. Mostly, it has altered how relationships between humans work. It has shifted our perspective on friendships.
Now you can “add” a friend, “remove” a friend, “block” them, “report” them, “tag” them and “like” them. All it takes is a click to start, or end, a “friendship.”
It’s pretty much common knowledge that Facebook is the most successful online social platform with the highest user engagement.
Facebook had us at the word “connecting” and we don’t deny that Facebook connects the world together. It helps people’s businesses to flourish. It aids talents and arts to be disseminated and discovered. More importantly, it helps us to make connections with people in a different time zone, people we might otherwise have lost touch with.
But how authentic are these connections?
The fate of the protagonist in “The Great Gatsby” reflect a dire reality, illustrated in a scene from the movie.
Gatsby had always thrown extravagant parties at his place to catch the attention of Daisy, the woman he was in love with. Countless guests attended Gatsby’s parties to enjoy their glamour and entertainment. When Gatsby died, none of his guests attended his funeral.
Lying in that coffin of his, Gatsby was alone.
If we reflect on our own lives, we might find that many of us are just like Gatsby. He invited guests for his own personal benefit. In return, guests attended for their own benefit as well. They came to eat, dance, drink, and have a good time. He used the guests. The guests used him.
In other words, Gatsby “collected” friends. But they weren’t really his friends.
Nowadays, we are collecting friends on Facebook. Some people add us only for their own benefit. By the same token, we accept friend requests from people we don’t know for our own benefit. Like Gatsby and his guests, we are using each other.
Gatsby’s friends drank his liquor and danced in the middle of his house, but this didn’t make them his friends. Liking one another’s status updates and photos doesn’t mean we would stand next to each other in moments of crisis.
The 14 people that truly give a damn about our successes or traumas, are most likely the people we know in person.
Every other friend in our collection, while living, breathing human beings, are most likely simply using us, or we them. For entertainment, to get attention, satisfy our curiosity, to compare ourselves with. The “friendship” is an illusion.
What can we do about this dilemma?
Awareness is crucial in the era of technology. We are creating a double life without even realizing it—one on social media and another one in real life, in some cases the real life one gives way entirely to the online version.
And so as Facebook friendships increase, for many of us, those in real life decrease as we invest more and more time in these often empty online relationships.
However, this doesn’t mean that friendships in real life are always more authentic or safer.
Both on Facebook and in real life, friendships are prone to end. I have had many true friendships throughout my life that have ended—lost in the mists of time. But I still believe that we can tell much more about a person when we meet them face to face than we can if we connect from behind a screen.
What we can do is start being mindful of the friendships that we have in real life. We need to take care of them and look after them. We shouldn’t neglect our real social life in favour of the one that lives in the ether of the online world.
We shouldn’t fail to remember that the beauty of real, deep connection lies with the people we trust and know.
Sometimes, Facebook helps us to meet people who eventually become our true friends. I don’t deny that I have met many people over the years on Facebook who helped me to grow and with whom I became truly connected.
At the same time, we should mind the people and the friendships that we merely “collect”.
Lest we end up like Gatsby.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Image: Clement/ Flickr