Your letter addresses many valid points about friendship which I have been considering, even puzzling over, for a number of years and to which, I am sad to say, there appears to be no answer, no solution, no remedy. What we consider to be friendship today is something removed from social interactions, removed from all personal contact, removed from the true friendship which springs up when two or more people are in real contact with one another, rather than simply chatting over a piece of software with an unseen person who, as we know from the current news cycle, might not even be a human being, but a bot, a fake, a piece of software powered to learn and react through artificial intelligence. This idea that we can have hundreds, if not thousands, of friends is a lie: we can only truly be friends with those few people we know, we relate to and interact with.
And it is the fact that we can simply delete a person’s name from a list, and end the friendship, which shows how tenuous, how fragile society is, and how much of a lie the social networks are when it comes to contacts, to true friendship. There is no level of remorse at losing a friend we can simply delete from our lives, at removing everything that we had with them in a simple move, a click of a button, and then just forgetting they were ever there. A true friend, a true friendship, is something which goes to the heart of a person, which infects their very soul and brings joy whenever they meet, whenever they communicate. Constant peeps and buzzes on a cell phone indicating that someone, somewhere in the world, who is on a list, has posted something, is merely a news service, and not a true and valid connection.
Although I do see some exceptions. There are families separated by circumstance, by the ways of the world, who have no other means of staying in contact within their otherwise close-knit family group. For them this is a godsend, a means to stay in touch, but with people they know, with people they loved and held as friends before adding them to a community list. Here the social networks fulfil their function and keep loved ones in touch, but all the time knowing that this is probably a temporary resource they are using, that they will be reunited at some time in the future, and that their friendship, their love and family ties goes far beyond what an electronic device claims to be able to offer.
City dwellers do indeed come into contact with many more people than was possible in any previous century, but these are often fleeting contacts and not on the same level as a friendship or even an acquaintance. Loneliness does not, however, aid in creating a friendship, nor does it spur everyone to go out and seek new friends. In today’s climate, fuelled by ego and falsified self-esteem, it is more likely to fuel resentment at the unfairness of society, rather than an appreciation that friends cannot be bought or manufactured, they have to be nurtured and grown, and that takes two. Anyone who remains fixed on their cell phone, on the life they believe is contained within this small box, and then realises that they are lonely has only themselves to blame: a click and an add to a list will never remove the level of loneliness a person feels within them when there is no reaction from other people who, perhaps with a better understanding of the world about them and its social possibilities, has turned their phone off and gone out to experience real life in person. Some people manufacture their own loneliness, and then try to blame others for that which they have created.
I do consider, however, that there is an exception to this lack of friendship scenario: letter writing. It may seem strange that I make a distinction between a social network, using the written word and imagery online, and the use of pen and paper to communicate, but the two are on a completely different level. Letter writing is a very personal and almost intimate activity where one person concentrates their entire attention of writing to another. There is no other involved, there are no chances of a re-tweet, or a like, or a share within a larger group of people. The communication is direct and directed and, as a result, can build up a special form of friendship, with the expression of personal feelings and thoughts, which only best friends have, which only two people who know themselves extremely well can achieve. The art of letter writing, with its countless possibilities for expression and thought, for consideration and, to a certain extent, philosophical depth creates something from the smallest bud to the largest oak tree, with strength and resilience. And the works, the communications between two people remain – unless one is so unwise as to physically destroy all evidence – and may be seen by those who come later and judged for what they are. There is no simple pressing of a button to erase a written correspondence, a friendship built on words, paper and ink, and that is a good thing.
And, of course, there is the truth that when writing, when putting our thoughts and experiences down on paper to send to our friend, we express ourselves at length. No short messages of two hundred and eighty characters, or abbreviations to fit into some space defined by an anonymous company head. We can write a book rather than a letter, and know that the recipient will hold it in their hands, leaf through the pages, read it at leisure and, eventually, pen their own reply. Letter writing breaks barriers: there should be no colour, no ethnic origin, no religious concerns, no borders. We write for the pleasure of writing, for the joy of communication, for the benefit of ourselves and our friends, and take the content, the lives that we receive back at face value. The most beautiful words can come from the ugliest body.