With the advent of social media, a new form of friendship has emerged. For lack of a technical name provided by the PhD community, I’ll call it E-friendship. These are people you bump into in the world of 1’s and 0’s who have similar interests, views, humor, experience, or are just friendly like you. Despite my preference for face-to-face contact, having E-friends has proven to be an invaluable part of my social life, and they can fit into the busiest person’s schedule. There are a number of perks to this type of relationship.
1) Communication becomes much more spread out over time, yet when needed the conversation can move very quickly. Electronic chatting can be like a series of sticky notes left on the fridge by a roommate you never see. They don’t need to actually be present to get the message, and it sits there waiting for them to find it without you having to remember what you wanted to say.
2) You get to finish sentences. This adds a twist to conversation, as now it is impossible to be “cut off” mid-sentence by either impatience or some new idea you brought to light that causes your friend to have a “Eureka” moment. In the latter case, they aren’t trying to end your line of thought, they just figured out something that, in the heat of the moment, seems invaluable and must be shared even if it only concerns pruning shears.
3) You can take time to form a response. Most business people feel pretty good about replying to email within 24-48 hours, and the busiest sometimes pay other folks to write back. This time delay can happen in any electronic format. There is a huge benefit to this. Now, you can formulate a well-reasoned, cogent response instead of turning red in the face and sputtering like a motorbike in need of an oil change. Some need this time to cover up mistakes, forgotten tasks, or just to bypass that awkward period where “the answer will soon be yes, but isn’t yet and I don’t feel a particular need to lay out my priorities in defense of your ranking on my to-do list”.
4) E-friends often have exceptional advice based on their own experiences yet discussions about intimate details of your life don’t become gossip among all your friends. Worried your marriage is failing? Talk to people who have been to the brink and back. Find someone whose marriage is over and learn what they felt was the ultimate reason behind their divorce. Discuss your problems with someone who has never been married but has seen the same thing happen with others. Any of these are possible without any blowback to your spouse, who may not even be aware of what is going through your mind.
5) Probably the most obvious but least acnowledged benefit is that you can meet, befriend, and learn from people who you would never have met IRL (in real life, for those not hip to the abbreviations that young people, not feeling the need to use complete sentences or even entire words, have pushed into regular usage). People with other interests, cultural identities, hobbies, habits, lifestyles and hairstyles are suddenly within reach of the nearest keyboard. Even celebrities create their own ways of reaching out to fans that don’t involve watching talk shows, E! Network, or subscribing to silly magazines dedicated to nothing at all.
So the advantages are fairly plain to see, even if you haven’t given them much thought. However, they will never be a proper substitute for friends with whom you share experiences, events, frienships, love, loss, victory, defeat, or a simple hug. Find a balance between friends near and far and you will find your life filled with opportunities to share, debate, learn, and above all, be a part of more lives, journeys, and successes. Be fruitful and hit reply! 😉