You can’t make friends like that

I was chatting after Home Communion yesterday, and we got round to the subject of the internet.  Email got a hearty thumbs up from all present.  Facebook got a “We’re on it but only for the grandchildren” (I’m on it too, but in a mostly personal capacity, in that I don’t generally friend people I’ve never met, and I don’t friend current parishioners).  But when it came to Twitter I (being around 25-30 years younger) was on my own in being a fan.  


“You just say things into the ether and then someone with too much time on their hands replies with something obscene”
Er, well, no, that’s not my experience at all.  I followed someone I know in real life (IRL – a phrase which in my head now means “physical presence” rather than “as opposed to imaginary games”).  I listened to some of their conversations, followed people who sounded interesting, and gradually joined in.  I became part of some Twitter communities – a concept as nebulous as it is in any other part of life.  And I have made friends.  When I said that yesterday, the reaction I got was what I have used for the title of this post.  “You can’t make friends like that.”  And it was statement rather than exclamation or question.  


I beg to disagree.  Over the years, I have mainly made friends at coffee machines, in mess rooms, and at my desk.  Nearly all of those will have begun with an “excuse me” or “out of black no sugar, no way” or some weather related remark.  Some never get beyond that.  Others moved through the “you OK?” polite enquiry to “you look hassled, everything all right?” to “come and have a coffee with me” to “bring the family round” to “you, me, pub, now” (that was a fraught day).  All of them stopped at different levels and mattered to different degrees.  Some of them have brought me friends whom I love and value, and don’t want to lose.  


Twitter is just the same.  Yes, I tweet a lot of inconsequential tripe.  And people read it. Some respond.  Other people also tweet trivial stuff, and sometimes I respond.  It is out of the responses that the relationships begin to grow.  Opinions are aired and shared, virtual tea, coffee, gin and wine are drunk by the bucket, cakes are tasted via photos.  From those shared conversations, there is a sorting process, just as at the coffee machine of ‘who do I like?  who do I trust?  who do I want to get to know better?  with whom am I willing to share?’  And there are my friends.  


“But how do you know they are who they say they are?”  In some cases, people on Twitter are unashamedly anonymous.  It doesn’t mean their personality doesn’t come through, and for some of them it frees them to say things they otherwise couldn’t.  But most people appear as themselves.  It isn’t too hard to do a little basic cross checking, to see if the “Rector of …” really is.  And just as at the coffee machine, instinct plays a part.  We all have met people whom we instinctively don’t like and avoid.  Twitter is the same, and it is easy to avoid people.


It isn’t exactly the same as the coffee machine.  But in a job where encounters can become very intense very quickly (from funeral visits to a question of faith in the Co-op) I need Twitter just as much as I needed a coffee machine.  Because I like, love, value my friends who support me, and whom I try to support.  Wherever I met them. 

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12 responses to “You can’t make friends like that

  1. I so agree with you! My Facebook friends are people I know, ( and NO pupils!) but the Twitter people, and the blog-writers I follow are mostly people I've never met. I do feel a part of this community, and find myself praying for them too….

  2. Lovely post 🙂 Just as blog friendships took me across the Atlantic, so now twitter friendships see me cheerfully driving in all directions – because my life is so very much richer for knowing you all. Thank you for being my friend 🙂 xxxx

  3. I think that you are ever so correct about twitter in particular and facebook. I am not facebook friends with all of those that I know on twitter, and unless invited, probably will not be.

    But I have phyically met a number of twitter friends and facebook friends in different places over time and if I remember correctly, you were at #cnmac11 last year? Which is where we spoke in passing among many others.

    In other cases I've been invited to meet people, which is lovely and a privilege that they value the twitter or facebook relationship enough to want to meet up.

    The thing that I've found, particularly with the twitter family, is the support and prayer and care for each other comes across swiftly with responses to tweets for help or consolation answered by loads of people. I know that when I received a NOT at BAP, my instinct was to go onto twitter and to let my friends know that I was hurting – the response was immediate and wonderful.

    Yes, you can make real friends in the real world or online, and they are just as valued, valid and real as each other.

  4. I think you're right, but to me, what we're doing is re-examining our understanding of exactly what 'friendship' means; we've actually been doing this, at least subconsciously, for a lot longer than we think. And, while I have personally got an awful lot of support and friendship from online communities, particularly where that has been realised 'offline', 'in real life' (and other equally-horrible terms), I have a slight concern for generations that follow that seem to be SO dependent on digital friendships, to the apparent exclusion of depth of relationships in the flesh, as it were.

  5. Praying for each other is a really important point. I take seriously those who ask for prayer, I know others do the same for me. It's a way of carrying each other through the week (at least that's what I claim on Sundays), so why not here too?

  6. I think my point is that friendships develop on line in similar ways to face to face. (I also detest “offline” and IRL belittles my on line interactions, which are part of my real life!). I'm aware I use twitter far more than I would if friends were closer- but then again, many of my friends I met at work are now living in various parts of Europe, and are so just as 'virtual'.

    I am a little more upbeat about SocMed than you I think. I certainly wouldn't argue that Soc Med replaces F2F, it just gives a different channel for interactions (as did the Royal Mail, the telephone, fax machine, etc, non of which proved the death knell of human relationships! People find ways to deepen the relationships they want to deepen, through whatever means.

  7. Yes, I was at cnmac11, had a great time meeting many people for the first time in the flesh, and have found some wonderful friendships as a result. I too have valued support I've received through twitter – by it's nature it is instant.
    See you at cnmac12 🙂

  8. Thanks for another ace blog Claire.

    My experience is that online relationships only flourish, like off line ones, if one invests time in them. They are no less real or meaningful. Socmed doesn't replace f2f but it does allow a depth of relationship to develop if we want it to and are prepared to invest in it. But those relationships do deepen once we take them IRL.

    My IRL world would be much the poorer without those I have met, largely through Twitter in the online world. And as above – the support and community matters immeasurably.

  9. I'm not in any way down on SocMed – as I said, I have been greatly enriched by relationships that grew out of interactions online. My concern comes from my previous professional context, which, to be fair, is now 3 years old, although I don't feel that things have changed very much.

  10. I would worry if it was the only means of social interaction someone used – although there are cases where that might be the easiest way – in the case of someone who is housebound perhaps. But yes, I agree that people still have to understand what makes a friend, as opposed to who is friended on FB or followed on twitter. And they have to learn how to move through that sorting process – and for me, F2F forms part of that. Simon C correctly points out that it all takes time and investment in the relationship too.
    I feel a “nature of friendship” thought coming on, but had better write a sermon first 🙂

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