A friend in change is a friend indeed

Bob Reid and Mark Thomas

Bob Reid and Mark Thomas

Go to any discussion board about social media or modern communication and you’re bound to find comments about the dismal state of interpersonal communication. Parents decry watching their children and friends sit side-by-side texting each other instead of talking face-to-face. And who among us has not doubted that one person can have 986 friends?

While the discussion is valid, it’s also worth noting that adaptation is a significant component of change. And what we are experiencing in the fast-changing realm of communication requires — demands, actually — an adaptation.

As a devotee of handwritten letters, I love getting real letters in my real 3-D mail box. Much history has been recorded by such letters. I’m reading a book by Dava Sorbel (Galileo’s Daughter) based on letters written to Galileo by his daughter. I’ve also written here about Dorie McCullough Lawson’s book (Posterity) a compilation of letters from famous Americans to their children. And there are the countless Civil War letters that flesh out the full story of the war that ripped our country apart. Letters recorded history like few other modes and enhanced our understanding.

Sadly, though, traditional letters are going the way of the gooney bird.

But as technology is changing how we communicate, it is also opening new avenues and opportunities, vastly expanding our access to other people. And while it may be different, I wonder if it is as bad as some say. In fact, I wonder if modern communication has given us ways to communicate that are just as rich and fruitful as the letters of yore.

Case in point.

Mark Thomas is Associate Dean and Director of International Affairs at Grenoble Ecole de Management, France.  I “met” him through the Be the Change blog. Mark writes GlobalEd, an interesting blog about business and international education, which I follow. Mark and I have shared a few electronic conversations — and we’ve even had a small competition as to which of us could first garner blog readers from Greenland. (He won, by the way, with a clever little blog maneuver.)

When I read on his blog some time ago of his participation in Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International, I mentioned to him the name Bob Reid, JMU’s former College of Business dean who is the executive vice president and chief accreditation officer of AACSB.  No, Mark replied, he hadn’t met Bob.

Last week, however, I got an email from Mark. He wrote: “I was at the EFMD Conference in Brussels for a few days and I bumped into this gentleman. I’m guessing that you might just recognize him.”

I did indeed. Included in Mark’s email was the photograph you see here: Mark Thomas and Bob Reid.

I have never shared a glass of wine or had a face-to-face conversation with Mark Thomas, yet in the modern “Facebook” definition of friendship, I’d definitely call him a friend. I would say the same about a photographer in Australia, Tracey Louise, whose whose stunning photography inspires me.  And there’s the Eagle-Eyed Editor, a JMU grad who writes a humorous blog on writing. There’s LazyLauraMaisey, a writer in England who makes me laugh, and The Water Witch’s Daughter  who makes me think. And Gina left the mall who uses her blog to support soldiers and veterans. I’ve also “met” an environmentalist in Hawaii, a couple in South Africa, a diamond merchant in California and a couple of  innkeepers in Eastern Virginia. From each of them, I’ve learned something.

Most recently I “met” Erin Casey, a 2013 JMU grad who has won a battle over mental illness and now shares her story to benefit others through her blog Where I Stand. I talked to Erin this week — not quite face to face, but voice to voice — and you’ll be hearing more about Erin soon.

I could go on and on about the “friends”  I’ve met through this blog alone — an eclectic and diverse group. If modern technology affords us an opportunity to meet new people, why shouldn’t we exploit it. After all, no one criticized television for letting us see worlds we may never visit.

It raises the question: What is a friend, anyway? According to Webster, nothing requires one’s physical presence to be a friend.

If there is a good analogy for the friendships we acquire electronically, I would suggest this: One of my favorite “friends” — defined as someone who has changed my life — is the perpetually young “Scout” Finch and her father Atticus. I’ve never met them face to face because they are, after all, fictitious. But they, straight from the imagination of writer Harper Lee, changed my life and certainly my perspectives. Isn’t that what a friend should do?

As modern technology changes the way we communicate, perhaps it is — in a very positive way — expanding the way we define friendship and affording us unlimited opportunities for growth and experience. I may never get to Australia or England or France — or even Fredericksburg — to meet some of these friends in person, yet if I define a friend as a person who has enhanced my life, made me think, brought me a smile, tugged at my heartstrings, helped me, taught me or challenged me, then I would call them “friends.”

So I wonder, have we arrived at a time in history when friendships are changing? Or are we changing friendships through technology? Either way, I can say for certain that I have a friend in France — and his name is Mark Thomas.


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

9 Responses to A friend in change is a friend indeed

  1. Mark Thomas says:

    Reblogged this on GlobalEd and commented:
    During the holiday I had a very pleasant surprise. Over the last 2 years I have looked at other blogs when writing my own to get ideas and inspiration. One of the best blogs I have seen in higher education is written by Martha Graham at James Madison University. We had both left several messages on each other’s blog (which included me stupidly calling Martha as “Graham” for the first couple of months!) Even though we have never had the chance to meet we have had many exchanges over the past year or so. Martha had written an excellent article on Bob Read, former Dean at JMU who now works for AACSB. Bob and I met up at a conference before the summer and I send Martha the photo never expecting her to publish an article on it! I am very flattered indeed by what she has said.
    An article in this weeks “The Economist” discusses research that shows the more time people spend on Facebook the less happy they are. Like Martha, I totally agree with this. However, technology today means that we can communicate with people without ever meeting up and I have been delighted to have many exchanges with Martha. As she says, we have become friends without ever meeting up.
    There is another positive side. In her article, Martha refers to a friendly bet that we had concerning Greenland. Because of that, I did some quick research and was lucky enough to stumble upon a wonderful blog called The Fourth Continent. This is written by a lady who has emigrated to Greenland and gives some amazing insights into life there. It really is quite a unique blog and well worth a read.
    The start of the coming academic year will be a little different for me this September, so I have asked a member of my team to begin writing another blog to take up some of the themes I have explored over the past two years. “Mainly International” will begin publishing in September. When my colleagues and I started talking about the layout and the themes, I first asked them to look at the one Martha writes. My basic message was that I wanted the blog to be as good as “Be the Change.” That is just how highly I regard the blog.
    So, many thanks to Martha, not only for this post but also the the inspiration you have provided me in writing over the past year or so. I am sure that you provide the same inspiration to many other as well.


  2. Mark Thomas says:

    Wow! I have just read this and I am so flattered by your post. My sincere apologies but I was just so busy during the month of July that I didn’t have time to read any of my favourite blogs. I am going to be away from the office until November now (for some holiday but mostly for work) and there was an awful lot tonget done before I left.

    This morning is the first day of my holiday and one of the first things I did was look up your blog. And what a lovely surprise. Thank you so much, Marta, I do really feel very honoured by this. I totally agree with your post in that internet has given us the possibility to form strong bonds with people over large distances.
    I also feel that I have a great friend in the USA and I am sure that it is just a question of time before we manage to meet up. In fact, when I started writing my blog it was really just a opportunity to writemore freely. The most positive thing that has come about this is that I have discovered some really wonderful people who are all living their passion. This is great.

    Just so you know, in September, my colleague, Marie Laure, will begin a blog which will be a more official one for the international department. While we were preparing this, I aked her to spend some time looking at your Be the Change blog because it is e perfect example of what a excellent university blog should look like. So, do keep writing, Marta and do continue to inspire others.
    Warmest wishes from Turkey, Mark


    • grahammb says:

      Hi Mark,
      I’m so glad you liked it! I was so excited to get the picture of Bob and you together that I just had to write about it. I’m glad you agree about long-distance friendships and I do look forward to meeting face-to-face someday.
      When Marie begins blogging, please tell her to let me know and I’ll definitely start following her. JMU has a blog written by international students and I’d be happy to connect her with them.
      By the way, I also understand completely about being so busy — If there’s a problem with the Internet and blogging, there is so much to read and learn and explore. But, then again, what a great problem to have. Opportunities abound.
      Enjoy your holiday and don’t work through all of it.


  3. Aw, thanks for the kind mention! That’s one of the things I like most about blogging – the chance to develop friendships with you and other bloggers here in the U.S. and around the world. It’s so much fun.


  4. Ginna B. says:

    Thank you – this helped me reflect on my reactions to my daughter’ s Instagram account – 1079 “Followers”, 272 photos (with one from 3 days ago getting 112 “Likes”). Beautifully written!


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