Google announced on Feb 1, 2016, it reached 1 billion Monthly Active Users (MAUs). Immediately, I thought of Facebook. Sorry, Google, I mean no disregard to Gmail. I am an avid Gmail user. I even have multiple accounts. When I thought about the sheer number of e-mails 1 billion users may generate, I instantly thought about friends. Facebook simply has the vernacular cornered on the use of the term friends. So, I ran a Google search to find out how many MAUs Facebook reports. Facebook reported it has 1.59 billion MAUs on January 27, 2016. I could not help but wonder, “How many friends does a person really need?”
I was reminded of my birthday last year when none of my Facebook friends wished me Happy Birthday. I waited and kept going back to check my Facebook App. I even checked online in case there was something wrong with the app, but nothing, not a single birthday wish other than from my father. He’s my father, he did not really count as a friend, not in the traditional sense. Finally, at about 9pm, when celebrating with my family, I broke down and updated my Facebook status along with a picture of the birthday cake, candles and all. I blew out the candles, enjoyed a slice of cake, and checked for any Facebook App notifications. I was happy to see some of my longtime friends wish me Happy Birthday, but part of me resented having had to have provided a reminder. I thought about how active I had been on Facebook. Turns out, I really had not been a very good Facebook friend myself that year. I had not posted many status updates. I could not recall how well I myself had kept up with the Birthday Notification of my Facebook friends and whether or not I had wished them well on their birth dates. I felt friendless and thought myself a bad friend. From that day forward, I endeavored to make sure I wished my Facebook friends Happy Birthday on their birthdays. Like most New Year’s resolutions, I did very well to stay on task for the first few weeks, but found it hard to be consistent as I found my day-to-day not being necessarily prioritized by my online Facebook status.
Fast forward a year, I came to another Birthday milestone. I checked my Facebook App for any notifications. Once again, I saw none, not one, not even from my father, but that was okay because my parents had called me. My birthday came and went, and there were no birthday wishes from my Facebook friends on my special day. I did not feel special. I brooded most of the day between my continuous checking for Facebook notifications. Nothing. No updates. Eventually, I began to double check my Facebook settings. Somehow, I ended up on my profile page, and, to my surprise, learned that my birthdate not just the birthdate year had been marked private. I quickly updated the setting. I felt foolish for not having checked the setting. After I changed the setting, even though late in the day, I began to receive birthday wishes from online Facebook Friends. I was not friendless, and, for all appearances, not a bad friend either.
The experience not only taught me to always double check my social media application settings, but also exposed how nuanced the term friend has become and how much of my self identity and sense of my personal social circle was tied to social media. In truth, I do have friends, online and in many different places, local and remote to where I currently live. I have friends with whom I stay in touch with differently, some over e-mail, others over chat sessions, a few by phone and even fewer, in person. As for my father being a friend, I certainly consider him one of my closest friends and champions. We have many ways to make friends and maintain them, in person or with our electronic devices, the many e-mail, chat, video-conferencing and social media applications available at our disposal.
So, back to my question, “how many friends does a person really need?” Similar to the many ways we communicate and stay in touch with those whom we call friends, I think the answer will vary from person to person and may depend on where a person is in their life. Life is constantly changing and so are we. I do believe as human beings we need social interaction and companionship. If I were having a bad day, I think a simple smile or kind word exchange or a quick chat with just one person should be enough to make my day brighter and me feel better. And, it does! A positive interaction or experience with a single person can turn my mood and day around for the better. For me, during my darkest moments, the answer to the question is one. On another day, in a happier moment, who knows?