Having friends, people you connect with, is an essential part of life.
Children, whether at the park, the shops, kindy, school or anywhere else are always looking for someone to engage with or play.
Often when children come home from their first day at school or other activity, a parent will ask (if the information isn’t volunteered) “Did you meet a new friend today?”
Children of before school age are often happy to play alongside whomever happens to be around; everyone is their ‘friend’. As they get older interactions with others of similar interests become more important and they begin to form stronger friendships with individual or small groups of children.
If children have an unhappy day at school it is often because they have had no one to play with. Maybe their best friend was absent or chose to play with someone else; or they may have had a disagreement with a friend or group of friends.
A few years ago I was engaged to construct and implement a friendships skills program with early childhood classes. Through discussion, stories, song, role play and cooperative games, the program taught children strategies for initiating and maintaining friendships.
The need for friendship is just as important on the internet playground of social media as it is in the school playground. People seek out others with similar interests and form online communities collecting followers, favourites, friends and likes. Just as in the playground, there are certain strategies which should be followed online to maintain those friendships.
The home page of each platform is a good place to start for ‘rules’ of engagement. In addition, many bloggers offer recommendations for friendly behaviour. Some that I have found useful include:
- Belinda Pollard’s 7 quick tips for using Twitter and suggestions to ensure you don’t annoy your Twitter followers;
- Rachel in the OC’s advice about how to use Twitter and other social media;
- Terry Tyler’s thoughts about using Twitter on her on blog and also on the UK arts directory.
I’m sure you are aware of, or will find, many others offering similar advice.
The one thing they all agree on is being friendly and polite, engaging in conversation and not making it all ‘me, me, me’. Just as one-sided in-person relationships have a limited life span, so too do one-sided friendships on social media.
In the ‘real’ world, people belong to different groups and organisations which are quite distinct in their goals and purposes. It is not always desirable to have these ‘worlds collide’ in a way that would provide information about oneself not previously revealed to a particular group; for example one may not wish to mix neighbourhood friends with work colleagues.
The same situation may also exist online with people publishing, or participating in groups that publish, very different material. The use of a pseudonym is sometimes suggested as a way of masking one’s identity or to keep separate two distinct styles of authorship.
While neighbourhood friendships are important to both children and adults and may be easier to maintain, the planning that is required to engage with like-minded friends who live further away is usually worth the effort.
The same is true online. Because I blog, and am already signed in, at WordPress, it is very easy for me to engage with (by following, commenting, liking and sharing) others who also blog at WordPress. Notifications of others’ posts are received in my everyday email inbox as well as my WordPress reader. Additionally, when I link to them in my posts, pingbacks are automatic.
Engaging with those using hosts other than WordPress requires effort, some more than others. It can often be difficult to leave a comment because doing so requires signing in using a platform to which I don’t already belong. Frustratingly, sometimes lengthy and well-thought out comments disappear if a mistake is made signing in or copying a captcha. Oftentimes a like or share button can be impossible to find, and following can also be difficult as I miss notifications sent to an infrequently used email address. There are particular blog hosts that are so problematic that I now ignore them, regardless of how interesting I think the posts might be.
While following WordPress bloggers may be easier, I don’t follow all or only WordPress bloggers. Those I follow must meet my criteria for interest and engagement. The extra effort required to follow non-WordPress bloggers is worth it when we have interests in common and engage in conversations which expand my horizons and thinking. (I am thinking particularly of Anne Goodwin and Caroline Lodge, both non-WordPress users.)
I have talked about maintaining real-world friendships, the need to belong to different groups, and the desire to achieve separation between some of those groups. I have also discussed a similar situation with regards to online friendships.
Warnings about the dangers of forming online ‘friendships’ with unscrupulous people are publicised almost daily with their accompanying stories of tragic events. I agree that these are very real and very present dangers and one must practise extreme caution when forming any friendships, online as well as off. Of less interest to the media, but probably of greater magnitude, are the number of real friendships forged as a result of online communication.
So what do you think about mixing real-world with online friendships?
If the adage, ‘strangers are only friends that haven’t met’ is true, should one maintain separation from one’s online friends, or take the risk of meeting in person should the opportunity arise?
What is your experience? Which of your online friends would you like to meet in person?
I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.
Here are two more of my favourite songs about friendship (just to help your thinking):