Recently I saw my neighbour‘s posting on Facebook that he and his family had suffered from food poisoning.
From his posting, it sounded like a serious case, because he said they had called an ambulance and it seems they had been admitted at hospital.
What shocks me is that I met him a day later and he did not utter a single word and it got me thinking that we have mortgaged our lives to these social networks.
Don’t get me wrong, I love social networks, I’ve been connected with people I would otherwise never have been in touch with, but when they begin to take the place of physical human interaction and alienate people, then I have a problem.
Somehow the age old tradition of sharing and mixing with neighbours seems to be dying a natural death and soon we will have friends that are not out friends, and those that are not part of our social networking sphere will fall by the wayside.
In Zimbabwe, a neighbour is considered important because you have to ask for salt from them when yours runs out, a euphemism for saying your neighbour is there for you when you are in need.
For my friend and neighbour, I could not offer the salt when it was needed and you will understand why I was peeved to see his posting on Facebook. I might not have offered much, but it could have meant that, at least, he valued me as a friend if he had told me that he had been afflicted by a stomach bug.
Seeing it on the social networking site, was in a way the same as getting second hand information, that I was as useful to him as his hundreds of friends on Facebook at home and abroad, far and wide, who would not have helped much in his hour of need.
I am supposed to be his neighbour, his first port of call, someone who can tell the next person what would have happened in case the stomach bug had been more serious. He should have come to me for the salt, but maybe just maybe my salt has lost its flavour.
Had I not been on Facebook, I would have not known that my neighbour had a near death experience, yet I meet on the corridors of our apartment daily. I see his sons play and I have a cordial relationship with his wife, yet I had no idea that there had fallen seriously ill.
In my culture and I believe in all African traditions, it is only polite to ask after the health of someone who would have been ill and since I didn’t know of their predicament I would not have asked, a sure sign of insensitivity.
Another friend says she read about the death of her grandfather on Facebook, she says she was shocked at the temerity of the relative not to announce privately first before rushing to announce to the world.
She argues that the relative should at least have had the decency to send a text message, a direct message on twitter or an inbox message to her Facebook account, but the cousin says that is how he chooses to communicate.
My understanding of social networks is that they are supposed to complement human interaction, connect us with people across the world that we have common interests with. But at this rate our relationships have become impersonal, we have alienated ourselves from our real friends, we now rely on Facebook to send a message to someone who is less than a hundred metres away from us.
We have redefined the meaning of friend to someone who is on our social networking sites, whether we know the person or not.
I have about 1 200 friends on Facebook, most of them I don’t know, some the only interaction that I have had with them was when I accepted their friend request probably months or even years ago. Are these the people I should be sharing my personal feelings and problems with?
Yes, some are close friends and relatives, but if they are that close to me then I should have their numbers and their addresses, I should be able to call them or visit them to tell them about my problems or listen to theirs.
I have no problem with announcing on Facebook or twitter, but the idea is to tell my neighbours and friends before making a grand and loud noise on the social networks. Like I pointed out earlier, you will need salt and your neighbours and close friends are the ones you can rely on in times of real need.
I may be generalising here, but I think sometimes the people that mean the most to us are not on these social networking sites, my parents aren’t, my grandparents are computer illiterate, while my siblings have dormant accounts.
By simply announcing on Facebook that I am ill or have done well, I will get pity and plaudits respectively from my pseudo friends, but I would have left out the people that matter most. The people that give me salt when I truly need it.
For this reason, I have decided to take stock of my life, to nurture the relationships that matter and to build on the growing ones. I am taking a break from my 1 200 odd Facebook friends to concentrate on my real friends and family.
I will miss the jokes, the banter, the linked stories and the hundreds of pictures I get tagged in, but that’s nothing compared to the true friendships I can build with people I meet and interact with daily, that have no Facebook accounts, who just want to enjoy a simple, uncomplicated life.