Online? Or for real?

by Evans Yonson

Barcelona – Many months ago, I had a very strongly worded exchanges of wall-to-wall messages on Facebook with a former student over something that is so mundane: the Filipino film industry. From my point of view, it was a worthless effort of arguing with someone who refuses to acknowledge her lack of information regarding the film industry. After a few lines, she took it personally and started attacking me. I have long deleted her from my Facebook and after that fateful online exchange, I decided to log-off and deleted three persons connected to her.

Is online friendship for real? Or is it just for show? Does Facebook really connect people? Or it disconnects as well?

I was once asked why I have more than a thousand friends on Facebook. I felt surprised by this inquiry so I started enumerating the possible reasons why I have an enormous number of friends online. First, I am a little older than the friend who asked me that question. Classmates from the primary, secondary and the university studies would probably account to more than 500 friends, more or less. Second, I have been teaching for more than 10 years now. Each year, I would average about 90 students and that alone would total close to a thousand. Third, as a working professional I have met more people who have become real good friends after so many years of business dealings with them. Fourth, I am a very friendly person. Fifth, I am a Filipino and networking is one of our stronger assets. We have our own Mafia-version. We are warm and highly hospitable thus making us a very friendly lot.

Recently, I had a lunch date with my university professor and we spoke about networking and Facebook. Facebook, according to him, is just one avenue to measure one’s social capital. The more friends that you have, the more people you can depend on. But since Facebook is an online thing, dependence on friends becomes a question of who are really there physically when you need them the most. Can you embrace a Facebook friend when you’re down and out? Can you immediately borrow money from someone online? In terms of carnal needs, nothing beats the real thing, according to my professor.

Two of my former Letran students, based in New Zealand and Sweden, are in constant communication with me. We exchange thoughts and ideas about life on a weekly basis. My siblings, nephews and nieces are on Facebook, too. I get updates on a regular basis. Updates like news from the homefront. Friends in the Middle East share their happiness and boredom of living lives in the middle of nowhere. Close to 75% of the total Facebook friends that I have sent me a personal note on my birthday last year. I took time out to respond and thank them individually online, of course. Facebook, I believe, really connects people. We get news of friends from all over, thanks to Facebook. We see how we looked like 20 years ago, thanks to Facebook. We go back and forth to the good times and bad, thanks to Facebook. We even support each other when someone attacks in Mafia Wars, thanks to Facebook. We fertilize and harvest our friends’ farms, thanks to Facebook.

Last week, I finally got a dose of my own medicine. Someone took me out from his/her own list of Facebook friends. At first, I felt worried and asked myself, why would such a friend take me out of his/her Facebook. But then I realized, friends too need space to see how important or insignificant we are in their lives now or maybe later. If that person really hates me then so be it. Just like my former student earlier, life goes on without you and me.