culture & community relationships & love

Blurred friends, or: Separated by a cupcake

by Lem — August 23, 2011

A recent night out at the bowling alley with my closest friends from graduate school brought on a little uncomfortable situation: one of my best friends told me in a sort of nonchalant way that she applied for a job in Canada, and was hopeful to move there with her boyfriend after finishing her doctorate. It’s not the mere fact that surprised me, but the way that she assumed that I’d already heard about it since she obviously had mentioned it to a lot of people in our group. In that moment I realized how much we had drifted apart – although we all more or less live within 40km distance (travel time roughly the amount of time it takes me to bake cupcakes) – and how little we now know of each other’s life.

I still count her to the group of close, real friends. But the more I thought about it, the more I’m convinced that this group of people that once was very clearly outlined, is now more and more blurred. I was searching for a culprit for this blurring, and found the internet. But not in a way that usually comes to mind when talking about human relationships and the internet – spending too much time online, neglecting contact. It was, for me and my closest friends, excactly the other way around. They all spent very little time on social networks, neither of them had a personal website or blog, and almost no one uses chat engines like ICQ, AIM or Google talk. They’re digital reclusives. Part due to personal dislike or even ignorance, part due to busy lifestyles. I can’t really blame them, and I’m tired of advertising Twitter like some moronic 3am tv channel vendor. I on the other hand, rely heavily on the internet to keep up with people – mainly because few of them can be reached on the phone at all, and I already spend a lot of time online because of my job. So there we were, close friends by denomination only, in a blurred group.

But on those blurred edges of my close friends group, I find new people. People I’ve met mostly online. Like a few friends in northern Germany from when I spent way too much time in MMORPG’s during university. We don’t see each other very often – maybe once every two years – but we talk almost every day online. About trivial things, boring things. Sending each other funny youtube links, complaining about the heat, complaining about the cold, showing off new gadgets, talking about love, life, loss, death, dreams, the past, the future, the now.

My average chat contact lives over 9000km away from me. I haven’t met a lot of them in “real life”. But by the click of a button, we’re as close as sitting in the same room (with one person always being slightly jetlagged). And if I’m honest about my blurred close friends group, a lot of those online-only friends aren’t on the edges, they’re right in the center, next to my friends from school. We know so much about each others’ lives and are so comfortable around each other that it’s only fair and logical to also count them in. I pondered about this for a while and thought that I might need to adjust my definition of a “friend” in general. I’m definately not going with the “Facebook” definition of it – a friend being one of 500 or more people that you might have met briefly at a concert three years ago of a band you don’t even like anymore. But was it really necessary for a person to be labeled a “close friend” to have met me more than 5 times (arbitrary number), and to know the location of the scar where I ripped my jeans as a 9 yr old, climbing over barbed wire to get my volleyball back from the railroad tracks? And as I was pondering on, I asked myself if maybe, just maybe, it was only natural that in ongoing adulthood, more and more childhood and school friends get replaced by adult friends who don’t share a personal, long way back history with yourself, and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it (that’s me pondering on in darker way).

I know that this likely won’t happen completely (that’s me pondering in a more reasonable way), but the challenge for me stays the same: how to keep up with my oldest, closest, but digital reclusive jetsetting friends, while not losing the possibility of meeting those friends that are not even bordering the blurry edges of my friends group yet, those that are yet to be friends. How to find a balance. Because I really don’t like to lose either side.

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