The above clip, from “Tombstone,” is classic. Val Kilmer is Doc Holliday, dying from TB, is resting after a gun battle alongside Wyatt Earp against the Cowboys. The key scene is dialogue with his friend Jack Johnson
Johnson: Doc, you oughta be in bed, what the hell you doin this for anyway?
Holliday: Wyatt Earp is my friend.
Johnson: Hell, I got lots of friends.
Holliday: I don’t.
Like Johnson, I got lots of friends. Thousands, if you count social media.
I was thinking about that last week. I was writing an email to a faculty member at UNC-Chapel Hill, and I included a link to a Q&A with Mathew Ingram. I started a sentence with “Ingram is a virtual friend of mine” and then I paused. Virtual friend? What the hell is a virtual friend?
He’s either a friend or he’s not.
I’ve not met Ingram, but we’ve “talked” on Twitter. He has flattered me by retweeting some things I’ve written, and I once said that I could build entire lessons based on his articles for GigaOM. But I know little about him other than what he writes. There’s maybe a 25 percent chance I’d recognize him on the street.
I know him on the busy streets and dark alleys of the Internet.
So I asked him if we were friends.
That pleases me, and I deleted the word “virtual” in the email. But it also got me thinking that I have more friends I’ve never physically met than those I know in real life.
I have 4,800 followers on Twitter and 15,000 on Facebook. I don’t follow them all back because I have to manage my time somehow. Do I know them all? Of course not. Do I consider them all friends? No. Does Taylor Swift consider her 63 million Twitter followers friends? Maybe a handful. The rest, I suspect, she considers them “the audience.”
A few years ago on Facebook, I engaged in regular political discussions/debates/arguments with a half dozen people I’d never met before. They were all smart and civil and personable, but when one of them suggested a meetup at a restaurant, I begged off. I enjoyed talking politics with them but I didn’t want to actually meet any of them in real life. I’m an introvert.
On the other hand, a few days ago I contributed money to Driven Media, a website dedicated to journalism for women by women. I gave because I like the cause, but mostly because a student I follow on Twitter– Samantha Harrington — is involved. We’ve never met in person, although we’ve walked the same halls at UNC-Chapel Hill. I can tell from her Twitter feed that she’s smart and sassy, and her efforts are worth nourishing.
Twenty years ago, I wasn’t friends with anyone I didn’t know personally and in the flesh. Now? That’s flipped on its head, thanks to the networks provided by social media. My friends help me, teach me and make me laugh. I know many of my “virtual” friends better than I know most of my own neighbors.
It’s a different kind of friend zone, and I like it.