Redefining friendship in a social networked world

T-Mag Thursday 02/August/2018 10:35 AM
By: Times News Service
Redefining friendship in a social networked world

One of the most exciting things about living in an era full of technological advances is the ability to connect with people from almost anywhere in the world, at any given time. But what is the meaning of true friendship in an era of Facebook, Twitter, and other social network platforms?

Through various social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram, people are now closer than ever, with the ability to make new friends and keep old ones alive. In celebration of World Friendship Day, we’re exploring the significance of social media in building and strengthening relationships across several contexts. Research published recently in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health claims that our well-being, especially in our midlife years, depends on having a wide circle of friends, while a lack of friends is associated with lower levels of psychological well-being.

In this day and age, when our digital networks consist of hundreds of friends, it may only be logical to say that our mental well-being is at its best state ever in the history of humanity. The accessibility of social media, which has been its defining characteristic, has truly elevated the concept of friend-making to another level, where individuals are able to reach out to people around the world instantaneously and remain connected no matter the distance. It is one of the most amazing gifts that the internet age has brought us. So how does social media contribute to building real, substantial relationships? While it’s something that at one time may have seemed totally weird, it has become increasingly normal and even acceptable to meet new people through online channels. It is, without a doubt, a brilliant friendship-forming machine used mainly by teenagers but also appreciated and treasured by adults.

Amira H. has been an advocate for making friends online, as she met her best friend on Instagram. “I kept in touch with all my friends from high school, but what makes social media special is that I found my partner-in-crime through it, and she is now my best friend in the whole world,” said Amira. “It blows my mind how a stranger you meet on Instagram can become as dear to heart as your family,” she added. Saif Hamood is another social media enthusiast who spends an average of four to five hours a day scrolling though photos and instant-messaging his friends. “I have befriended many people online,” he said. “Some of them I have met in person, and we are now the best of friends.”
Saif is also able to keep in touch with his long distance friends. To him, social media is a godsend, as he gets to keep up with their lives while updating them with developments in his. “I have travelled a lot, and wherever I went I made sure to make a friend,” he shared. “Now I’m connected to them through Facebook, forever.”

Through social media, people build new friendships while maintaining old ones. These newfound relationships are viewed as just as significant as those made in person, and perhaps even more so when it comes to folks who lead busy lives. “As a woman in my 30s, I can testify that my friends from high school are still in touch with me, the good ones and the bullies,” said Jokha Abdullah, who studied her whole life abroad and has formed a private Facebook group for her childhood and school friends where she posts updates regularly.

“We constantly text, follow each other’s lives, and even meet from time to time, but none of it would’ve happened if there were no social media interactions,” she added. “It may not seem as real to some people, but to me it keeps me closer to those I love.” Is meeting people online for the purpose of making friends the only way to build relationships? Not exactly. Some friendships occur as a result of online gaming platforms, something that is more popular than ever in Oman. Most gaming websites are quite interactive, forming communities of players who enjoy having friendly battles over the weekend. Members of these communities end up becoming friends and exchanging social media usernames to further stay connected.
Online gamer Issa Al Afifi has met tonnes of friends through gaming platforms.

“I play almost everyday at a local gaming centre, and I meet new people on daily basis,” he said. “Some of them reside in Oman, others from the Gulf. I have even travelled to Saudi Arabia to meet a couple of them.”
It comes as no surprise that virtual friendships are as valuable and significant as one makes them out to be.
So how do people stay connected online?

Online groups are some of the best tools that social media has ever blessed us with. From Facebook and WhatsApp, to Yahoo! groups, these networking sites allow you to keep track of your circle of friends in a bubble created by you — one that will hopefully last for ages. Some people may question the “social” aspect of social media relationships, where human interactions are reduced to a minimum, but others agree that the concept of staying connected is far more superior, as many of us share our social media usernames with real-life friends as a way to stay in touch.
In the end, even though life happens and takes us away from our friends and loved ones, social media can bring us together in a way that allows us to share our experiences with each other from anywhere and at any time. It may not be the only option to make friends, but it truly is the most reliable and immediate way. —[email protected]