Betty Muindi @BettyMuindi
You are skimming through your Facebook feed and notice a stream of unhappy posts from a once close friend from college. Without a moment of thought, you join the rest of her Facebook friends and throw in a comment of consolation, “God knows all your struggles.
He will surely come through for you.” Then you continue scrolling. But wait, you have no idea where your friend lives these days, whether she got a job or got over a toxic relationship! Such has been the case of many ‘friends’. And perhaps that’s why a recent UK study found out that social media is getting in the way of real life friendship.
Rael Nyakio, 38, is not on any social media platform. “Recently, I got news from a friend who told me that a mutual friend from high school had lost her/his baby, and so I called her and she really appreciated it,” she says.
For Nyakio, joining tens of those who boycott or refuse to get trapped by social media brings peace of mind as well as helps one to begin meaningful and emotional relationship with people
“It does not bother me to know that people know about my personal milestones or not. My real friends call me on those occasions, and that is all that matters. Not 200 congratulatory messages and birthday wishes on social media,” she adds.
Even millennials find the expectation of remembering online friend’s special events exhausting. “I feel lazy that I can’t remember any of my friends birthdays without online reminders,” 22-year-old Noel Njeru admits. But on second thought, he explains that he does not really feel bad about it because it is the norm these days. “Why should I struggle to remember someone’s birthday when the message will just pop up on Facebook first thing in the morning?” he jeers.
So if you are friends on social media, can you genuinely call these people friends? Some would say no— that online relationships are transient and not as deep as talking to a friend in a bar. Others would say the reverse, that sometimes you can be more open, honest and truthful when communicating with someone directly through social media or online communication.
We live so much of our lives in the digital realm these days, glued to touch screens and interacting with fellow humans through a variety of different technological media, says Philip Panya, 37, a regular Facebook user. And it’s not just the younger generation who do this. Everyone has been pulled into the matrix.
He describes being someone’s friend as about knowing what makes them tick, understanding them, caring about them and supporting them when they need you. “And that does not have to happen face-to-face.
You can share a joke, tell a funny story, listen to someone’s problem and empathise with them without being in the same room,” he explains. Panya, however, admits that knowing someone in real life does add an additional layer of humanity.
Body language, eye contact and the ability to share a hug, or give a hearty pat on the back makes a friendship more visceral and physical.
Gilbert Oloo, a social media influencer, says there is a general expectation that people know about major life events because they have been announced on online forums. And not being on social media would definitely cause you to miss important announcements.
This is because these days, people don’t feel obligated to reach out and announce things in any other way after posting it on social media. “People reach out by clicking on a friend’s profile and reading through their post.
That way, they know if their friend’s child got sick, if she travelled, has opened a new business. They feel engaged. The relationship as a result does not grow, it is just ‘snooping’ onto each other’s lives,” he explains.
Oloo says when you put bare minimal effort on a friendship, it shows. Perhaps you are not labelled a ‘bad friend’ for opting a quick thumbs up friend’s life event, but in the long run, the friendship gets affected by your lack of real effort.