Life with Lizzy: Real Friends

Through my experiences both in school and out of school, there’s one thing that I just can’t seem to get totally right. I’m either the unluckiest person in the regard of making friends, or the luckiest—I guess it can go both ways.

With the bitter comes the sweet: I happen to meet some of the most amazing and influential friends I’ll ever have at a transient point in time, like a stay-away, long-distance summer program, or anywhere outside of school. So I end up making incredible friends that I can only communicate with through the internet and almost never get to see otherwise.

No matter how difficult it seems like it might be, nothing gives me greater pleasure than talking with these people through any medium possible, be it Skype, Facebook and other social networks, SnapChat, texting, or even emailing. We laugh together, cry together, collaborate on projects, complain about school—you name it. The distance and time zones are tricky to manage sometimes, as some of my closer friends live in Argentina, Toronto, Maryland and other states on the east coast, Ireland, and Wisconsin respectively.

I sometimes mention them to people around here as “that friend from [insert place here],” and people either roll with it or immediately stop and question me about a) where I met these friends or b) how on earth I keep in touch with them properly if they’re so far away.

When social media first emerged, its effect was gradual, yet it was soon clear that sites like Facebook would be complete game-changers for friendships and keeping in touch. With the development and refinement of the smartphone, this ease in talking became even more of a reality. This onslaught of alternative ways of communication also resulted in a jaded, perpetually unimpressed group of people denouncing social media and new developments in texting due to their perception that they have somehow cheapened social interaction. Even here at the Upper School, this is a contentious debate topic for students—are people more likely to update a Facebook status and chat online than go out to lunch with friends? Are friends kept primarily through the Internet not as valid as “real” ones?

As an individual with both “internet friends” and “real” ones—and I use both those terms loosely, for even now I struggle with an apt definition for the two of them—I see the answer as a definitive no to both questions.

Holding such fixed and rigid definitions for “good communication” and “bad communication” seems to me both elitist and counterproductive. Who decides what’s good and bad? What this new technology has done for sure is broadened the capacity for us to communicate with one another, as well as give a chance for people with things like social anxiety to carry on meaningful relationships.

Writing off the validity of friendships simply because you don’t see some people in person as frequently as other people is insulting to the people in the friendship who have worked so hard to make things work with distance as a barrier.

 Elisabeth Siegel’s column “Life with Lizzy” will appear on alternate Thursdays, exclusively on Harker Aquila.