I never thought about friendships formed through social media, or any technologically mediated communications, as a possibility. As a matter of fact, I’ve been critical of any claims of such friendships made by students or relatives young enough to never have known a world without such possibilities. Now I’m going to have to re-evaluate a few established prejudices. This is not easy after discounting the whole idea as being born from the isolation and desperation of shut-in computer nerds and people so socially inept they can’t form meaningful bonds with “real” friends.
She – a young woman from a medium-sized city located in the border area where India, Pakistan, and Kashmir have established imaginary lines defining their geographical claims. Several of these imaginary lines are dotted lines, disputes that often result in social, political, and religious divides supported by prideful indignation and suspicion, which makes for a dangerous neighborhood.
Me – a White-looking male twice her age, an American ex-pat who lives in a Central American beach town with fewer inhabitants than some extended families. The imaginary lines here are as well established and stable as can be expected. A sleepy neighborhood where not many consider it worth their time to get excited about borders, or much of anything except too little or too much rain.
Me – an agnostic some days, an atheist on others, from a country where formal religions often take the form of entertainment.
She – a poet with a poet’s soul and a degree in economics.
Me – a prose writer schooled and employed in academic environments where poets and prose writers often defined themselves with imaginary lines subliminally or overtly supported by prideful indignation and suspicion, which often made for a…never mind, that’s a pitiful comparison.
But this is exactly how we were introduced – she reading my prose on my WordPress blog, and me reading her poetry on her WordPress blog. Comments brought replies…replies brought more replies…e-mails became more convenient, then longer… photos of each other and our neighborhoods on opposite sides of the world were exchanged. She lives in an area that when viewed on a map appears to be the end of the line…massive mountains rise in Kashmir, then there’s not much of anything between spots on the map identified as Ngari on the western side and Nagqu to the East. I live at the end of the line also, with the Pacific ocean on one side and a semi-arid and sparsely populated peninsula on the other. We share the inconveniences of power outages, finicky internet connections, and the ever-present possibility of natural disasters that could at any time turn those inconveniences into serious problems.
She has a mother who inquires about my well-being, and a nephew that asks her if I’m coming to Pakistan to visit. I have a few close friends who ask for updates on her progress with her poetic works and her personal well-being, and a wife who is raising the possibility of a trip to Pakistan…crunching the numbers, so it is said these days. This all just seems to have happened as if our friendship was a foregone conclusion…organically…not meaning effortlessly, but despite the barriers posed by geography, history, governments, ethnicity, gender issues, current events, and the spotty technological ties that have made our friendship possible in the first place.
Can reading the writing of another, and their reading of my writing possibly be the basis for a meaningful friendship?
Have I become an isolated computer nerd, or so socially inept I have to search out friends from afar? No, I don’t feel so. She is nobody’s isolated computer nerd and her social skills are attested to by the many “real” friends she has in her life, the compassion and feeling of depth that comes through in her poetry, and an online presence that is enchanting despite an experience with identity theft on another, popular social media site.
I can’t say that I endorse the cultivation of frivolous friendships on social media sites, or any sharing of personal information with any “friend” made using similar methods. But, I do know that when a recent round of power problems caused a break in our ability to communicate, the cyber silence made me concerned – deeply concerned. I think that that is one of the most sincere signs of a friendship. I also think it’s a sign that I need to re-evaluate my prejudices toward social media.
Maryam Shahbaz’s poetry can be found on her blog on WordPress – do yourself a favor. I can’t be found by anyone who doesn’t frequent my beach, or read my posts on this blog. I think we are friends…Inshaa-Allah…Dios quiere…