Now, we are in touch with our friends more than ever. We know everything about our friends since the news feed of our social networking sites with the help of pictures or mood emojis or status update etc.
Social networking sites are a genuinely new way of interacting: you can feel close to somebody without actually speaking to them from one month to the next. It also keeps people in your orbit that would normally have slipped away. I know, for example, that the girl I used to sit next to at primary school has spilled coffee on her laptop three hours ago. At some point in my life, some of these people will loop back into real interaction with me, maybe, but for now they remain a constant comforting source of virtual social life.
But is it more? Recently, I figured there was a case of suicide. While looking at victim's Facebook page,it seemed, everyone else who knew her were leaving messages of regret and love and loss. I found myself reading over her old status updates. She was clearly trying to communicate pain and isolation – but everyone missed it, leaving insane comments and thumbs up and tossed sheep below every plea for help. Could we have known, if we had read it less casually?
The contrast between the transitory nature of a Facebook status update and the permanence of death made me wonder if all this social networking is actually a way of keeping people at a distance – a way of having a "friend" but not having any of the commitments and duties of friendship. When the sci-fi novelist William Gibson first put forward the notion of "cyberspace", he described it as a "consensual hallucination", where we pretend we are together, when in reality we are alone. It seemed true that night.
The internet has a way of drawing people together who would previously have wandered around unconnected. Obsessed with same football club, same tv serial's watcher? Or the theme tune to their best tv series? Or sharing the common field of work. Before, you would have talked only to yourself. Today, there is a message board waiting for you, filled with like-minded people. And yes, it often does translate into "real" meetings. Just look at www.meetup.com or the dozens of sites where people with shared niches are meeting and becoming friends or falling in love. It's a starburst of human connections. My favourite are "flashmobs" – groups of people who gather in a public place, at a time previously agreed online, to do something gorgeously silly.
I would also like to add that, in some ways, social media brings us together. Look at all the people on WordPress, for