My mother used to make a firm distinction between what she termed friends and those she considered mere acquaintances. A true friend, she argued, was somewhat you could turn to at any time, a person you could trust and who would stand by you for as long as it took, a rock of social support. An acquaintance may be friendly and even helpful but could disappear rapidly. It’s one way of thinking about it but something tells me it’s also a false dichotomy. Our social circles can be quite complex and we turn to people for different needs and at different times for a whole variety of reasons. These days there are additional considerations. We can’t ignore the role of social media even though the connections we make through it may be a bit weak. Or are they? Are weak social ties any less meaningful than strong ones if we gain something from them?
It’s perfectly reasonable to claim our strongest ties, the one’s with most value, tend to operate in the same circles as ourselves. Here I’m thinking of family, the people we grew up and still socialize with, and maybe people at work. Of course social media means we can hold on to some of these bonds even when we, or they, move away. It enhances our sense of connectedness to know we can text, email, or video-link to people instantly, for as often or as long as we like. It’s also fair to say that those closest to us tend have a greater level of emotional and sometimes physical connectedness. It may seem like the complete package but is there something to be said for our virtual connections?
Not everyone operates within big social circles or family networks. It’s very common to find people who either live alone or maybe count their spouse and perhaps one or two others as their close social circle. Situations like this aren’t always conducive to asking questions, sharing concerns or simply talking about other things. This is wheresocial media can be so helpful and probably goes a good way in explaining its popularity. If we want to talk about our own or some close mental health, for example, we can use social media to connect with people we don’t know. It can allow us to be anonymous and to say what’s on our mind. These strangers may share our experiences but they may also move in different circles, have different experiences and perhaps hold views that are novel and interesting. They may have answers to problems that have vexed us, or know where to turn and what to do for answers – and there may be dozens or hundreds prepared to share their thoughts for just that single issue. That has to be worth somethingSee More Helpful Articles
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.