A friend in change is a friend indeed
June 20, 2013 9 Comments
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.