Friendship Day 2019: Can virtual ‘likes’ make up for real bonding?

From sitting on the balcony and chatting away for hours on end to rapidly sending one liner text messages in the middle of a busy (or not so busy) day, friendship has had an evolution of its own.

Face-to-face communication is either avoided as much as possible, because frankly, after a tiresome day at the office, we really don’t want to spend the remainder of our evenings with some friendly company. We can always catch up over WhatsApp, what say?

And so, any plans to get together with human beings get put off for months on end, until invariably we face each other at a wedding or a funeral.

It is in such situations that we exchange pleasantries; shake a limb together or grab a couple of drinks (reminiscing about college days) and make solid plans to meet the following weekend. Alas, come weekend, and we are scratching our heads thinking of what excuse we can give to work our way out of the plans this time.

Friendship Day 2019: Can virtual ‘likes’ make up for real bonding?

Over the ages

As a society, we have become very individualistic in nature. “In such a society, family and friendships take the back-seat as ‘Me’ becomes the centre of our life.

This is why some psychologists are calling it ‘Generation Me’. Although it makes people more confident and assertive, it also makes them more miserable,” vouches Dr Chinmay Kulkarni.

We distinctly remember having one best friend who we shared everything with – right from the snacks in our lunch boxes to our deepest, darkest secrets.

He/ she meant more to us than some of our blood relatives as well. But, this was before the digital era. Clinical psychologist and author, Dr Seema Hingorrany tells us that today your best friend can be the person who likes most of your photos on Instagram. Sometimes, people have online best friends who they have never even met before!

Former president of the Bombay Psychiatric Society, Dr Kersi Chavda recollects that letter writing and phone calling were the only other alternatives to live interaction.

“With a multidimensional presence, it is possible to talk to thousands of people on any given day from the privacy and solitude of your home. With social media, each of us has our own private universe in which to self-deify, and even a platform for the exhibition of that idealised form.

Your Facebook friends see you at your best, and you shield them from those unfortunate episodes when you are being strictly human,” he adds.

Screening friendships

With the internet at our fingertips, our main medium of communication today is social media. Although we can endlessly debate the pros and cons of it, when it comes to friendship as well, it has been a bane and a boon.

Social media has helped us stay in touch with those who have moved overseas, and has even helped us form friendships with people we have never met in person.

However, how authentic are these friendships? Can we really tell? Dr Seema points out, “The way people engage online is very different from how they are in real life.

Social media is the main way through which we interact with friends nowadays, as a result, conclusions are drawn about people who we know in real life, based on their ‘online personality’. Many times, there will be a disconnect between the person one knows in real life and their online avatars.”

Dr Chinmay informs us that studies show that 60% of people spend less time catching up with friends since the advent of social media. “Due to social media, we have become hyper-connected without a real connection with anyone.

You post a picture and you get tens or hundreds of likes. So this gives you a false impression that you are being loved and appreciated by many people.”

So, can we really believe what we see? “The digital age has dramatically changed the meaning of human identity. We have online caricatures of ourselves that require careful cultivation in addition to the real relationships we navigate in physical space,” says

Dr Kersi.

This leads us to ask an important question: Have we become comfortable with settling for virtual friendships that are easy to form and maintain? Do we no longer feel the need for human connect in a physical space? Or can we just admit that convenience plays a key role in our interactions today?

Back to basics

Looking at the bright side of things, social media has definitely helped strengthen bonds overseas.

Where letters would take several months to arrive, a WhatsApp video call allows us to convey messages without having to leave the comfort of our home and going through the hassle of putting pen to paper and visiting the post office, along with being able to see our loved ones in real time.

However, there’s no denying the need for friendships that go beyond our screens.

“One needs to understand that it's better to have few close friends whom you can reach out to when you need and who can reach you when they need help than having hundreds or thousands of digital friends who just hit the 'Like' button and comment on your posts,” suggests Dr Chinmay.

Dr Seema suggests that if one does not have enough time to meet up, then at least regularly call your friends and check how they are doing. But, whenever possible, we should try and actually see each other and talk about issues, rather than discuss it over text.

“The hardest thing to do is face the world unarmed, bare of technology, eyes open, showing yourself to the world... warts and all. We need to work towards actual physical friend-making, wherein we provide physical attention to the person and are there during the good times and bad,” adds Dr Kersi.

It all comes down to what you prioritise at the end of the day. Building a community of people who we can rely on and who can rely on us, not just for the tough times, but something as simple as catching the latest movie in the theatres or sampling a new cuisine, is extremely essential.

Instead of thinking up excuses the next time a friend asks to get together, simply say yes. You might learn something new about your friend or realise that they have been needing a shoulder to cry on.

You might even be surprised that the meeting leaves you feeling lighter after you have vented your deep seated frustrations over a warm cup of coffee.

(Today is World Friendship Day)

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Free Press Journal