Friendship in a virtual world


I have a presence on a large number of social media sites. My use of them depends largely on who I know on each one, my interactions and relationships with followers. The majority of my socialising happens on line and I employ few filters. Where others fear for their privacy I see little of interest in my life to hide. I feel no need to present the world with anything other than what I am.

As a teenager I was an avid letter writer, and when electronic communication became possible I embraced it. From packaged messages sent across linked mainframes, through to email and instant text messaging, I welcomed the opportunity to contact distant friends without having to pick up a phone. I have always felt more comfortable with written rather than spoken words.

I joined Friends Reunited and then Facebook. I reconnected with friends I had not been in regular touch with for over twenty years, able once again to keep up with the aspects of their everyday lives that they were willing to share. More local friends were putting details of their social lives on line and I felt better acquainted with them than I had previously managed through our occasional, passing conversations. I could only see what they chose to post, but such filters exist in any social space.

I use Pinterest as a type of openly available filing cabinet for my thoughts on books and films; Goodreads allows me to connect with other readers and share detailed book reviews and recommendations; Tumblr I browse more than I post, using it for entertainment rather than for any personal connection; Google+ I am still getting to grips with. I use each of these sites irregularly, for specific purposes that I have tailored to suit me.

More recently I have started to use Twitter a great deal, linking up with other writers around the world as well as following those who can keep me abreast of news that is not widely reported in the mainstream media. Twitter has a fast moving news feed that is not always reliable, but is currently one of my favourite sites as it allows comment that has not been filtered as ‘suitable’ for general consumption. In many ways I feel it gives me a window on the world, with the caveat that I can only see it through the eyes of those I choose to connect with.

Facebook is now falling out of favour. I get that it needs to make money to survive, but the personal touch is being drowned out by commercial interests. Whereas I am comfortable sharing, many of my family and friends distrust the way it uses our personal data. If less is shared the site’s purpose and attraction are diminished. As Facebook is my means of linking with people I know personally, those I may still connect with in the outernet, I will not be leaving it any time soon. The pleasure gained from it’s earlier incarnations though has been tarnished.

I do wonder about what I share on the various sites. I put up links to news articles that interest me with no idea if they will be of interest to anyone else. I amuse myself with occasional Buzzfeed type quizzes and share results, aware that some will see this as irritating clutter on their newsfeeds. I promote my writing to an audience that may have no interest whatsoever in the stories that I create.

My on line space is my own and I will use it in a way that suits me. Followers can always unfollow, friends can unfriend or choose to hide what I post. There is though the fear of causing offence by rejection. I feel hugged when I see my stats rise, question the worth of my posts when the numbers fall. Particularly with my writing, the links that I regularly tweet, I worry that my self promotion irritates.

My on line life is time consuming but is now my main link to the world outside my home. Alongside the life I have led and the books that I read, it provides inspiration for my stories. The writers I connect with encourage me to continue, read what I write, and help me gauge what has worked and what has not. I value the feedback I receive from all quarters.

I am not always so good at responses. Particularly on my blogs I am delighted when readers take the time to comment, yet I struggle to talk back to these generous souls. It would seem that conversations on line come no more naturally to me than face to face. I feel awkward and tongue tied, worried that what I write will not be read in the way that I mean.

When I hear social media derided I feel saddened as it has enriched my life despite it’s challenges and limitations. I understand that, particularly amongst young people who may be judged in the future for information they post now, prudence may be wise. For me though it offers a chance to connect on my terms. I can pick up a computer at a time that suits me, set it down if my attention is required elsewhere. Unlike a phone call demanding immediate attention with it’s shrill ringtone, my on line life need not intrude.

Join me then readers, reach out and connect. Within the confines of my sheltered, virtual world, I would very much like to be your friend.




On attraction and friendship

When I was in my late teens and early twenties I could relax more in the company of boys than girls. Throughout my years at school I struggled to fit in, never feeling that I truly belonged in any of the cliques. I had my small group of girl friends from school and church but conversation with them never seemed to flow as naturally as it did with the boy friends. The boys seemed to talk about and do so much more fun stuff than the girls. I couldn’t relate to it all but I enjoyed sitting in on the banter.

Of course, there was always the problem of the sexual undercurrents. I hung out with quite a mixed group and dated a number of them. The difficulties of break ups and of suspecting that one or other of the boys wanted to ask me out could make knowing how freely I could call them up or suggest we do something a bit of a minefield. I wanted to be liked for being me, not as some sort of potential sex toy.

When I started going to nightclubs this became an irritation. In those days I liked to dance and I couldn’t afford to drink too much. I was happy to go with groups of people I knew but had no interest in being chatted up by a stranger. One of my girlfriends felt the same (she was in a long term relationship from a young age) so we would make a pact to be there for each other; to put off the drunken, amorous pursuits of the beer stoked guys looking for a pick up.

Preparing for a night out, this friend and I would decide what to wear. We had neither the money nor the ability to appear fashionable so often opted for outrageous. On several occasions we put on our stitched together ‘ball gowns’ for a disco. We wanted to dance and would do so together, always turning away any boys who tried to step in. We would never accept a drink from a stranger. As the night wore on and approaches became more frequent and pushy we would play the situation up, slow dancing together or acting like eejits, waving our arms in the air and prancing wildly. When we had had enough we would go home, always together and with nobody else. Those nights out were fun.

Some of the boys we encountered at the discos would act as if we were being teases. Turning up at a nightclub as two single girls and then refusing to accept the attention of any boys was seen by them as not playing by the rules. The places did resemble cattle markets with the girls parading themselves on the dance floor while the boys stood around the edge drinking their beer and eyeing up the totty before deciding who they would honour with their attention. I was never going to be interested in the sort of stud who felt this was reasonable behaviour.

Just as I hated the thought of being picked up by some stranger just because of the way I looked, so I was never attracted to a boy just because he was considered handsome. In many ways this was more likely to put me off as I suspected he would be too concerned about his image for my liking. I had no wish to be arm candy.

I liked the boys who invited a crowd round to their house to listen to music and talk. As we got older the meet ups would often be in pubs, but we would still crowd back to somebody’s house afterwards. Sometimes we would go on walks or to a beach, there were camping trips and drives out to remote places for no discernible reason, but it was the talk that I remembered. I wanted to be able to think the way some of those boys thought; to communicate with that witty rapport full of clever comebacks.

It all started to become more complicated as I got older. As acquaintances started to pair off, to get engaged and then married, I had to be careful how I treated the boys in the groups I hung out with. I could no longer flirt and banter as I had without falling foul of wives and potential wives. I could no longer sit up into the wee small hours discussing everything and nothing without facing accusations of impropriety.

These days I only have a few close male friends. I have learnt to be wary of relationships with men, especially when they are married to my women friends. I have seen too many serious fallouts over perceived mental infidelities and want nothing to do with any of that. I find this state of affairs so sad; I still find the conversations men have so much more interesting than the small talk in which women indulge but which I find so troublesome.

I no longer consider myself to be in any danger of being perceived as a sex toy, but am much more wary than I once was of being seen to be suggesting any improper behaviour. The men I know largely regard me as someone else’s wife and treat me warily. We are all being so careful not to cause offence that we do not get to know each other as individuals.

Perhaps this is why I enjoy getting together with old friends so much. With them I can revert to my natural behaviour rather than the uptight carefulness required to avoid social faux pas. Old friends have known me as I was and have seen me move on to what I have become. They have chosen to stay in touch and to still get together from time to time. With them I can just relax and talk.

I never did learn how to communicate with witty rapport full of clever comebacks, but I still enjoy sitting in on such banter. I enjoy talking music and politics and life with friends who can disagree with me whilst respecting my right to hold the views I do. I love being a wife and a mother but I also like to be regarded as an individual with my own thoughts and interests. Just as when I was younger, these seem to conflate more with the thoughts and interests of the men I know. What a shame that so many of us can’t just be friends.

Conversation by Patrick Bohnen