Some very famous thinkers have brought up an interesting issue concerning social media. It seems that millions of people in the world don’t know the definition of the word “friend.” Apparently they think that the little avatar pictures that they see on their computer screens are “friends.” Maybe you need a little backstory.

Twenty years ago, if a person was lonely, they had to find somebody to talk to. This involved going into either a) a room with some other humans in it, and engaging them in conversation, or b) going outside into the world to locate another human to converse with. If you had fun talking to these humans, then you would seek them out on a frequent basis. You might have them over to your house for spaghetti. You might tell them your secrets. You might hug them. These humans would be called your “friends.”

But then, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jack Dorsey invented all the stuff we now call “social media.” So we tweet things, Facebook things, and use the zillions of other media applications like StumbleUpon, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and stuff. So that these days, whenever you get lonely, all you have to do is hop over to the computer screen and chat with complete strangers from all over the world in tiny, little bytes of information.

For instance, I could—if I wanted to—tell one of my Twitter followers in Argentina that I absolutely LOVE chocolate. And that person (who hopefully tweets in English) has 140 characters to reply by saying something like, “Oh, me, too!” You see how this works? It’s like magic!

There is just one problem with all of this. So many of us are intrigued with “social media” that we feel actual affection for all of these far flung “friends.” We ask them to pray for us when things get rough. And they post “hugs” on our Twitter stream or Facebook page. If we want to get really close to these folks, we post pictures of either our dinners or our pets. This creates instant intimacy.

I have thousands of friends on social media. But here is the thing: I have no idea if some of them are actual creepers. After all, what is easier than creating a whole, cool personality for yourself? You can make up your own user name! Don’t like Susan or Fred? Then call yourself ArielGalaxy or Stoneman! Sounds so much more compelling! And then say cool things like “Someone just used my driveway to turn around and now I’m standing outside with two open beers and *lonely face*” (@pro_failure on Twitter).

It is tempting to think of your social media contacts as friends. After all, how flattering is it that a guy in Brussels “likes” you on Facebook? But just a word of caution, here. I have to agree with the pundits. Although it is tempting to spend time with your virtual buddies, the fact of the matter is, when you have knee surgery or marital problems, your Twitter followers won’t hold your hand, bring you brownies, or let you come over to their houses to watch “Call the Midwife.” Nope.

We still need humanity. Oh, my gosh, that’s right! Barbra sang about it! It isn’t a platitude. People, people who need people. You won’t find them with an app. Good grief.  Take a walk around the block (then go in and post it on Facebook)!

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