If I were to become King of the World, or at least the social media world, the first thing that I would decree is that the administrators of all the social media platform get together and forever banish the word, FRIEND, and come up with a better term to describe those with whom you connect on social media.

Let me state that, in many ways, I am a fan of social media and appreciate the connections that are available to me there and the access to wonderful information that is often provided to me by those connections.  I can get lots of feedback for my ideas, promote my thinking and products, and interact with people in far off places whom I would probably never meet otherwise.  But using the term, FRIEND, to describe most of them is a corruption of the word.

Friendship implies a closeness that I believe can rarely be achieved without a history of mutually supportive interactions that can best be achieved face-to-face, although an individual can certainly have a few long-distance friendships.  Even some marriages began as long-distance friendships, but this is the exception and not the rule.

My concern with using the term, Friend, to describe social media connections is related to the fact that too many people use social media as a substitute for active in-person socialization and some of them feel comfortable in not making efforts at building an in-person social network because they already have hundreds or thousands of friends on social media.  There is a skill that is required to build true friendships, and that includes learning to trust, to negotiate rough patches, deal with setbacks in relationships, and test out social strategies in a supportive environment in order to get good at socializing.

The payoff, however, is well worth it.  There is no social media equivalent to being able to share our hopes and dreams and fears and pains with a close supportive friend, and to be able to reciprocate when s/he calls upon us.  A DM is rarely a substitute, and a posting or public comment is almost never the place for sharing our deepest thoughts or feelings (although I know that some people do it).  The fact that loneliness is also a leading cause of reduced mortality in older adulthood is another reason for building a good circle of actual friends throughout the lifespan.

It’s nice to have a nice group of friends, and it’s also nice to be connected with a large number of people on social media – but one shouldn’t be considered a substitute for the other, and a good place to start would be by giving these two groups of people separate names.





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Ron Kaiser, Ph.D. Psychologist, Educator, Author, Podcaster

Ron Kaiser, Ph.D., is a positive health psychologist, coach, author, podcaster, educator, consultant, and speaker. He has been in practice for more than five decades, including 25 years as Director of Psychology at the world-famous Jefferson Headache Center at Thomas Jefferson University. As an innovative thought leader in the field, he has developed the concepts of THE MENTAL HEALTH GYM, GOAL-ACHIEVING PSYCHOTHERAPY (GAP), THE TYPE P PERSONALITY, and REJUVENAGING®.

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