“I’ll be there for you” was the premise and promise (http://goo.gl/4znkVU) of Friends the TV series that lasted 10 years and spanned two centuries (https://goo.gl/ifXiI). “Stand By Me” (https://goo.gl/w2hf8T) asks the Ben E. King song (https://goo.gl/7nSomg) and just to drive the point home it was also the theme song for the film by the same name (https://goo.gl/TOifZJ) based upon Stephen King’s novella which was about friendship and coming of age.
Like most things today the word “friend” is applied in contexts which our fathers and grandfathers would have difficulty understanding let alone accept. We call friends people we have never met. People who live hundreds and often thousands of miles away from us and who, often, speak different languages. It was not always quite like this. “Careful who you hang out with,” was something my grandmother admonished me about often and because she told me people would judge me through my friends I hang out with surfies and bikers, martial artists and bodybuilders the teen me delighting not only in the act of rebellion that constituted but also in the delicious discovery that I liked them as people. Their sense of fun and their alternative points of view in direct contrast to the seriousness of my other friends at the Physics Club (Yep, my school had one of those!) and the Tennis Team (where I would spend countless hours each week perfecting my lob and sharpening my serve).
“We need friends because they help define us,” suggests Jane Fonda in a revealing and at times hilarious, interview: https://goo.gl/Mse6LB. Yet, friends can also be difficult to make. In our time loneliness appears to be the norm with real friends hard to find: https://goo.gl/r4xheS. Friends, have always played a pivotal part in how we structure our social edifices and pivot our communities and they are age-old in their necessity: https://goo.gl/Ke3dZt. Yet the problem of looking into the philosophical past to try and understand friendship is that it tends to completely miss the point of remote, asynchronous, non-physical connections. The kind of ones we make through the digital mediums we inhabit.
Our need for friendship, it would seem, is such a powerful drive that it can influence almost anything we do: https://goo.gl/S9E2iE. The large scale, digital networks we inhabit, these days, is changing the way we connect and how this affects us in ways we are only just now beginning to examine and understand: https://goo.gl/S9E2iE.
We are such strongly social animals that our drive for friendship manifests itself very early in our age: http://goo.gl/hPHvk8. Even more importantly, friendship may be such a strong need and it has such profound benefits to the individual that it can take place even across species: http://goo.gl/DDnMEc. We seem to bloom in closely connected groups appearing even more attractive: http://goo.gl/aFh774.
As individuals we constantly change and evolve. We become part of each other’s journey for a while before moving on (http://goo.gl/2zxyyC) and in view of that it might be Facebook’s capacity to reconnect us with past friendships that may be unnatural and cause all sorts of interesting effects we have yet to understand. For one, it may be already affecting the limit of the well-known Dunbar Number: http://goo.gl/xVpciI.
Those of us who count spouses amongst our friends, there may well be a reason for that as love itself does not come without a price: https://goo.gl/lTmI5a. Psychology is only now really looking at the deep, profound effects of friendship in an attempt to understand exactly what it is that makes us tick: https://goo.gl/CFcsrU.
When we were each restricted to the size of our physical communities the need for friends was not just mental and psychological, it was also biological: http://goo.gl/HVTD4s. In the digital age we are succeeding in separating the physical from the mental. When we no longer have the need to compare status through traditional means (https://goo.gl/SP8YHe) we may be finally free to assess each other and engage through affinities that run deep in our social, cogntiive and neurobiological parts of the self: https://goo.gl/w9oQAu.
The Japanese term kenzoku which loosely translates to “family” is often used to apply to bonds between people that run deep. The criteria for friendship are the same irrespective of whether we talk about physical or digital friends: https://goo.gl/fZrZJu. As we break free of our localities and physical communities and roam the digital space in search of others just like us (and some who are not) we are beginning to do things a little differently.
We stay friends with people who in the physical world we may never have approached in the first instance. We form networks of contacts that are more diverse and capable of enriching us and changing us than anything we might have encountered in the physical world. We become bigger than ourselves and braver in our thinking than we perhaps would have ever managed to on our own.
Friends are no longer people we knew in the past or people we can reach out and physically touch. The reaching out of minds and interests and even of curiosity, that is now taking place, is forming communities of the mind that are beginning to exert their influence upon the world, changing it, one tiny bit at a time, even as the contact of so many virtual strangers, digital friends, is now changing us.
As you can probably imagine I am raising a massive coffee mug in friendship, resting easy in the knowledge that you have already stocked up on croissants, cookies, donuts and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday wherever you are.