I grew up reading the comic “Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson and to this day I still have a fondness for the six year old troublemaker Calvin and his tiger friend Hobbes. Like almost any kid his age, Calvin was a troublemaker who would rather goof around than do his homework, and often received failing scores as a result. Nonetheless, Calvin was brilliant and made many astute observations such as this one shown here in the image: “True friends are hard to come by”. I came across this image by Googling word “friend” after reading the article “Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being On Social Network Sites” by author danah boyd. I realized the image was perfect for what I had just read, for what Calvin said appears to address the very heart of the complex nature of friend vs. Friend in the age of social media.
In her article, boyd brings into question what is meant by friend and Friend mentions how both terms are ambiguous and neither are rigid concepts. Rather, both have a fluid, fluctuating and complicated nature. On the one hand, boyd uses the term Friend that “refers to the feature on Friendster/MySpace” (2). On the other hand, according to boyd, a friend “refers to social relations between two people” (2). However, based on this definition, are not Friends also social relations? Or in other words, can Friends be friends? At the end of her article, boy states how “[s]ocial network sites are not digital spaces disconnected from other social venues– it is a modeling of one aspect of participants’ social worlds and that model is evaluated in other social contexts” (18). Friends are indeed social relations, as they comprise aspects of someone’s social world. Thus, Friends can also be friends.
However, it is not quite that easy. One cannot simply state that all Friends are indeed real friends. In her article, boyd reasons that the term friend signifies a “friendship that involves some degree of mutual love or admiration” (2). While some online Friends do share a certain amount of love, respect, trust, or admiration for one another, this degree of friendship may or may not translate into actual feelings or behaviors beyond virtual interactions. In fact, boyd mentions how many Friends acquired through social media are more acquaintances than actual friends. Furthermore, boyd states how many people hold to the opinion that “the category of friend carries an aura of exclusivity and intimacy unlike the categories acquaintance or contact, which suggest familiarity but not closeness” (2). This explanation reveals the concept of weak ties vs. strong ties, as some acquaintances or Friends could constitute weak ties and friends could constitute strong ties. True friends, or even best friends, may connote a friendship of an “exceptionally strong relationship with expectations for emotional and practical support” (2). According to boyd, examples of this type of support expected from friends may include someone who will “provide a shoulder to cry on, be a partner in crime, and guarantee to bail you out of jail” (2).
Based on these examples, it would appear that in many genuine friendships, particularly among best friends, a certain amount of emotional investment might be expected, given and received. This is not always the case among Friends, as emotional investment is not always required to be online Friends . The virtual nature of being Friends can also carry a superficial nature as well, particularly being Friends with an acquaintance or adding someone as a Friend just because the one accepting has liked the profile of the one they are accepting. There may be a type of separation and emotional detachment between these types of Friends on social networks. In other words, some Friends can exist without any strings attached. Based on this detachment, these types of Friends may possibly not be friends.
In the age of social media, Friends are not hard to come by. Everything from extinct Friendster to still active yet less ubiquitous MySpace to powerhouse Facebook have helped create and manage Friendships through virtual connection and interaction. However, it is clear that the term and concept of Friend do not always equal friend. It appears that Calvin was right after all. Even in the age of social media, true friends may still be hard to come by.