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BOOK REVIEW: Finding friendship in a Facebook world Mary Jacobs, Jul 15, 2011
By Mary Jacobs Staff Writer
Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World Lynne M. Baab InterVarsity Press, 2011 Paperback, 187 pages
Facebook turned “friend” into a verb. But what does it mean to be a friend in the age of Facebook? Author Lynne Baab examines that question in her book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World.
“What are the characteristics of healthy, life-giving friendships in today’s world?” she asks. “What choices and skills are necessary to navigate these new realities?”
Ms. Baab approaches friendship as a spiritual practice, one worthy of thought and intentional effort.
“Friendship is a space where our values and commitments take flesh,” she writes. “This is true for people of any kind of religious commitment and for people who have none.”
Modern life creates challenges to real friendship, she adds: the frantic pace of life and the scattering of family and friends to scattered locations. Those are familiar challenges to Ms. Baab, who grew up in a military family that moved an average of once a year. The experience taught her to make new friends easily—but also highlighted the importance of staying connected with friends she’d left behind.
“Friendship requires a lot of work and . . . this work involves a great deal of initiating and requires that we reach beyond ourselves, over and over,” she writes.
With the advent of Facebook, many people believe that meaningful friendships have been supplanted by impersonal, superficial online connections, but Ms. Baab isn’t one of them.
“When people use the words faux and imitation to describe relationships with a strong online component, I usually feel a flush of anger,” she says. From her childhood, “I learned early that even when a friend lives far away, the friendship can still be meaningful.”
Showing the depth with which she has considered her subject, Ms. Baab writes about a recent move to New Zealand, when she made a conscious decision to not pursue new friendships as actively as she had in the past.
That taught her that her fear of loneliness had made her a bit compulsive about making friends. “I’ve let go of some of that compulsiveness,” she writes. “I’ve befriended loneliness in a new way, finding more peace in it.”
While the author does explore the ways that short, “soundbite” conversations, via Twitter and Facebook, influence our thinking and ways of interacting, she also notes that some people feel more able to open up via written communications, like email. That, too, can foster intimacy and deeper friendship.
“Two of the big friendship challenges of our time—busyness and mobility—have created distance between friends,” she writes. “Electronic communication, when used intentionally, can restore some of that lost connection.”