I spent February 14 with a girlfriend this year. We, of course, talked about life and love (it’s just what girls do) over a sumptuous lunch of mutton keema thosai (an Indian crepe, stuffed with spicy minced mutton). We talked about the pressures of being over 30 and single and the relationships that just never seem to get off the ground because of this, that, or the other. The conversation meandered through the afternoon. A little later over coffee, she said, “I don’t know about you, but I collect friends”, referring not just to her already large circle of friends, but also to a few friendships that had started out online (or otherwise) as relationships… “no matter what’s come between the relationship I’ve had with someone, if I’ve made a connection, I will forgive and forget…I want them to stay in my life… I collect friends.”
“I don’t know about you, but I collect friends”
Briefly, just briefly, it struck me as odd, that she would use the words ‘collect’ and ‘friends’ together. Humans, after all, aren’t a box of hot wheels or a stack of stamps for collecting. We’re not ‘things’. But I quickly realized that I liked that combination of words. We all need to be surrounded by people we love. It’s natural. And, so we do ‘collect friends’ throughout the course of our lives (even if we never think of it as such). There’s no doubt that friendships don’t stay the same as the years roll on; they evolve and grow, some might deepen and others may fizzle, naturally. Yet friends, like family, are so essential to helping us stay grounded. We build memories through friendships. We are inspired to create, discover new ideas, learn and grow emotionally, personally and professionally, through friendships. Friendships (the real time, physical one-to-one type) are also an excellent antidote to depression, because friends interact both when times are good, and when the going gets rough. The simple act of a real conversation with a friend can change your mental, physical and emotional state. We all know intuitively what the physical presence of another person, a touch, a hug or a real conversation can do for us. Yet, more often than not, we cling to our devices and our virtual worlds to connect.
Today, the term ‘collecting friends’ is irretrievably tied to the online world – paradoxically called ‘social’ but is, in fact, far from it. Through technology, we are inventing loneliness and a whole whack or other social and medical complications – all of which we can fix by simply shutting down our devices or turning off the telly to make time to connect and communicate physically, in the flesh.
Through technology, we are inventing loneliness and a whole whack or other social and medical complications
I love technology and what it’s enabling us to achieve on so many levels. I love trawling through Facebook and catching up with distant friends. I can’t imagine what my life would be without Facetime and Skype – the mediums through which I connect with my family and friends scattered around the globe. I love that technology is allowing me to share my thoughts here freely.
But, too often we get lost in social friendships (as we tot up the number of friends we have on our ever increasing number of social platforms, or spend hours on end curating the best, happy stories of our lives to share). I know, I’ve done it. I’ve spent many hours online, interacting, but never feeling truly connected. As humans, we need to share more than just our happy times to grow, and often we need real interactions with true friends to make that work.
True friendships though need realtime action, and it’s up to each of us to nurture them in realtime – so the next time, you’re inclined to strike up an online chat with a friend, try a call instead (if they’re online and available for a chat, they’re likely available for a conversation). Meet up when you can, even if it’s just to go for a walk. If you had to meet online, meet up in person online – Skype and Facetime have made it possible do so. I know when I make an effort to connect in realtime (whether it’s with someone close by, or miles away), I feel better…more tangible as a human being and more a part of a community. I commit to doing so more often.
In writing this post, I came across this animated video by Shimi Cohen on the Innovation of Loneliness.
which led me to this TED Talk by Sherry Turkle. Listen to what she says about how we interact with our devices today.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you think technology has shaped your friendships.