I’m not usually one for following popular trends (I think I was emotionally scarred by the day Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles went out of fashion on the very day I proudly brought my action figure into school). Facebook has been one of the exceptions, in that not only did I sign up fairly soon after it became big enough to catch my eye but I’m actually still a regular user of their services. I have photos uploaded there, I use it to keep track of my friends, and I have no reason to stop any time soon.
I did however succumb to a Facebook-related trend that is probably beginning to grow old now – I uploaded a profile photo of me as a baby. Well, about three years old anyway. I even got a comment left by a friend of mine saying how cute I was. And it got me thinking – who actually remembers me from when I was that age? No one I’m in contact with now, apart from family of course. The only people who would remember me from then would be my old friends from my first primary school, but I’ve not been in touch with any of them since… well, since I left in Year 3.
And this is where Facebook really comes into its own – a quick search brought up an unexpected surprise, finding someone who is potentially the first friend I ever made.
Laura and I were in Nursery together, we were best friends back then, the two brightest kids in the class (we even skipped a year completely on account of our relative brilliance). However, my parents eventually got wise to the less-than-satisfactory teaching at the school, and promptly moved me to a smaller but better primary school a little further away. And so it was that I lost touch with Laura, Sarah-Jane, Ben, Zoe and Simon.
Finding Laura on Facebook was therefore one of the most exciting things that’s happened recently, on account of it being so significant. I’m not expecting us to rekindle an amazing friendship – 18 years is a long time to be apart and still expect a friendship to remain – but just being in touch (even electronically) is quite special. I have to confess to getting just a little over-excited when the friend request came through!
It does highlight something about how our society has changed over the last couple of decades. Not long ago our friends were defined as people we spent time with, which usually meant they were confined to people in your local area, people you worked with. Now, with the advent of easy communication via the internet and social networking sites such as Facebook, a friend can legitimately be anywhere in the world. Laura is a fine example of that – I would never have got in touch with her otherwise, and keeping in touch with her would also be difficult as we’re in completely different parts of the country. In some ways perhaps Facebook’s ‘friend’ status is somewhat limiting, in that Laura is now on par with my friend Sarah who lives round the corner, and there is no easy way of determining how strong or deep that friendship is (and I have to admit that despite our history Laura and I are most certainly not close friends any more, though more by distance than design). However, that ‘friend’ status still means something, and if nothing else it’s a reassurance that people I have known in the past are still out there and within easy reach by just a few clicks.
I do wonder though whether this broadening of our social horizon has had a detrimental effect on traditional relationships. According to Facebook I have 162 friends scattered around the world, but I don’t even know the names of my neighbours. People who live in our road pass by our door every day, and sometimes we see them and pass them on the path, but no more than a nod and perhaps a grunt of acknowledgement is shared. Has the internet made us less reliant on our physical community, to the extent that it doesn’t matter any more?