I’m sure I’m bringing nothing new to the table when I make the claim that instant communication has changed what friendship is all about. It might not have altered the definition of the word, but it has radically changed how we go about expressing it. You only have to take both the mobile telephone and the internet away for a moment to consider the implications.
I was at a party last night when this particular dilemma crossed my mind, and it occupied my brain for the greater part of the journey home across central London. I heard in passing a friend mention how he’d been on the phone to another friend of mine just that morning. In and of itself it shouldn’t have unsettled me, but it did, because in the entire time I’ve known that friend, I couldn’t remember a single occasion I’d called him on the phone. In fact, in the last fifteen years or so I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of friends I have spoken to over the phone, two of which one can write off instantly for being girlfriends (on the popular assumption that a relationship necessarily requires such amenities). For some reason, I’ve never been the type to ring up my friends. It’s not for want of things to say – I’m an infamous chatterbox in good company – but I’ve simply never known what to say over the phone.
Should this trouble me? On a purely superficial level, no. Friendship isn’t calculated on a basis of words per minute. And yet in today’s hyper-connected world, it’s very easy to feel that if you’re not the kind of person who enjoys texting, WhatsApp groups or catchups over the phone, you’re failing in your task as an attentive friend. Why wait months for your next personal encounter when you could fire off a quick Facebook message? People often say it’s the little things that count, and it’s the “little things” like this that social media and it’s various offspring facilitate. You can, of course, turn up your nose and say you’ll hold out for the next time you meet in person, but that is easier said than done when we must necessarily part ways to pursue our various careers, which may well be far away – another hurdle of modernity. The fickle hand of progress draws us together with one hand whilst the other does its level best to drive us apart.
I must endeavour to write more letters. We all must. Far too much emphasis is placed on speed and frequency of communication these days. One should consider that, if we lived in a time without social media, data or the telephone, insecurities such as these simply wouldn’t exist. But because we can now be reached at the touch of a button, we should be reached. There’s no excuse for sloth. You can apply the scenario to work; it’s the same problem there. There’s simply no escaping it now. We’ve made ourselves slaves to our own desire for immediacy.
Working in a boarding school has left me with little time or energy to write as of late, be that my books, my blog or even my letters. At the party last night I found myself speaking to “close friends” I had not spoken to in all of a year, two in some cases, to my shame. My workload is set to increase twofold next year, but despite the obvious hurdles I have yet to face, I mean to turn that trend around. I have to do what I can. Snail mail may not provide the instant satisfaction that WhatsApp delivers, but there is a genuine sense of joy to be found in patience. And patience is surely what friendship is all about, when it comes down to it.
I can only hope my friends have been patient with me. BB x