We slowly gravitated towards each other, the seven of us, so different, yet so alike. By the end of second year we were inseparable and had a name Saptrishi. Our friendship survived the rigours of medical education, the insecurities of adolescence and three decades of silence. After leaving college all of us got busy in building careers and raising families. We met a few times in class reunions, rarely phoned each other and yet the bond stuck. So when four years ago we met with an aim to revive our friendship there were no grudges. Perhaps it was easy to forgive the long lapses in communication because all of us felt life’s velocity acutely.
It was a little sad that unlike our youth when we demanded each other’s attention, we now had relaxed, almost suspended expectations from each other. Our present relationship is not ideal, but it’s real. It is based on a mutual understanding of each other’s limitations. We have understood that the things that make friendship fragile also make it flexible. Free of responsibilities we meet more frequently and have even managed to take short trips together, just the seven of us.
With modern technology to our aid we now share more news more often. This makes me wonder does social media and instant messaging help sustain relationships? Armed with more efficient ways to communicate will the present generation never endure the long silences we did. The media multiplicity theory suggests that the more platforms on which friends communicate the stronger their friendship will be—so texting and emailing, sending each other what’s app jokes and links on Facebook all seem to play a role.
Although Emily Langan, an American Professor in communication has a diametrically opposite view. She postulates that there are various levels of maintaining a relationship. Digital communication can keep friendship alive and stable. A birthday wish, liking a profile picture or status update, supporting a comment can keep it breathing. But to turn it into a satisfying relationship needs more than an online presence. If you haven’t ever met you’re not really sharing experiences just updating each other on your separate lives. So it’s storytelling not shared living.
Before the advent of social media friendship was simple. An active friendship meant staying in touch, being involved and lending support. A dormant friendship had history, with no recent communication but an urge to meet when possible. A commemorative friend is a blast from the past, not someone you expect to hear from, or see. The current era of mediated relationships keeps this last group on life support and doesn’t let them fade away. So if keeps that friend from summer camp in your peripheral vision. With so many vying for our attention we end up maintaining more friendships and hence we do it shallowly.
On the eve of the day meant to celebrate it, let’s admit that friendship is difficult to define. From the very technical ‘ A voluntary relationship between equals sustained through reciprocal resource exchanges.’ To the whimsical ‘Somebody to talk to, someone to depend on, and someone to enjoy.’ To the practical ‘An acquaintance acquired by position or power’ a friend is a loosely used term. The undercurrent of joy is the only constant. So a friend, whether real or virtual is one who makes you happy and hence worth investing in…. har ek friend zaroori hota hai……
( published in my column in the Tribune on 4/8/2018)