by Ruben Banuelos

It was Monica Kim’s first day of English class. In reality it was the second, since she had looked at her schedule wrong. It was a flustered beginning to the next five months. She entered the room ready to start, but the only available seat was in an empty row. She sat down, took out her pink notebook and black pen, and was prepared to start her day at Las Positas College.


Soon a chill dude wearing a worn-down denim jacket sat next to her. She had never seen this student before, but her intuition told her that they’d get along.  


He introduced himself, effectively breaking the ice, and soon enough they were carrying a whispered conversation through the remainder of class. When they were dismissed, Kim and her new friend were both craving In-N-Out cheeseburgers. Kim was convinced she had found a new friend.


She found that this connection could have only been possible by putting herself out in the physical world, adapting to an indifferent environment and seizing on the innate courage within her.


Yet friendship’s conjoined twin of social media represents a particularly different trend. The race to populate an online profile operates inverse to meaningful connection. Without constant effort, the friends list begins decreasing. Users of social media start to acknowledge followers as friends. 


The Greek language has four different references for the word “love,” representing the varying ways love is expressed. One of them is “philia,” which means “affectionate regard, friendship” that is usually shared “between equals.” This is a serious bond experienced by the involved parties. In his series of books on ethics, Aristotle explained that philia is expressed as loyalty to friends, family and community and it requires virtue, equality and familiarity. 

Philia is where the name Philadelphia come from. This is why Philadelphia is known as the “City of Brotherly Love.” Philia is the love that is shared between friends that is so strong, it is like being brothers.

And then Facebook changed everything.    


Now, the meaning of friend is to click a “like” or “follow” on social media. The term friend is passed around freely and without the philia that it normally included. Now, one can have thousands of friends, because friendship is not that weighty.

How many people can one have in their life that fit under the “brotherly love” concept? How many people can one enter into a pact with to never lie to one another, to tell the truth to each other even when it hurts, to stick together through thick and thin, confront life issues together so neither is alone, so resources can be shared and support is never-ending?


College students today are being forced to grapple with what it really means to be a friend, to have friends. Social media has turned communication digital. Friends are now people who interact through digital apps and direct messages. 

College students today are being forced to grapple with what it really means to be a friend, to have friends. Social media has turned communication digital. Friends are now people who interact through digital apps and direct messages. 

But life gets real for young adults. College students go through different challenges in life and soon learn that they don’t have 4,189 friends. Sometimes, in the worst moments, they have zero friends. If they are fortunate, one friend.

While they don’t say it, many operate as if their social media followers are their friends. It is where they find comfort and support, communication and camaraderie. It is where they go to get advice, to address their problems, to be part of a community.


To not feel alone.


Then college comes. Adulthood comes. Life gets in the picture. And the once popular question asked by the ‘80s rap group Houdini becomes relevant again.


Friends. How many of us have them? Friends. The ones we can depend on


In the past the word friend had a simple meaning. It was accepted that a friend could only be in the flesh. Otherwise they would be considered imaginary. Someone that could be introduced to your mother. Friendship used to be so easy to understand. You go out, you socialize and boom, you make tons of friends and might even be considered popular. 


According to the second edition of the “International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family,” “friendship is a relationship with broad, ambiguous, and even shifting boundaries.” The word friend has a different meaning for different audiences. “In spite of friendship’s vague and seemingly indefinable quality, friendships contribute in important ways to psychological development and health and well-being from early childhood through the older adult years,” the encyclopedia stated. 


What constitutes a friend today are clicks, clicks form likes, and likes form friends. People use social media as a way to expand their friend lists. Instead of venturing into the real world and physically interacting with people, we can open our apps and seek new followers. If intimacy equals acceptance, another drop in the follower bucket affirms our value.  


Steve Hartman, an intern at the Student Health Center at LPC, stated, “For them, the ability to reach out from within a safe place in their own home and still be connected with others is phenomenal.” 


With social media starting to take over our social life, the word friend gets very confusing. We start “friending people,” and we have no information about who they are. All you did was saw your recommendation list and decided to click add. 


Suren Ramasubbu, CEO of and contributor to The Huffington Post, said, “Children and youth assume that friendships they seek and nurture are reciprocated and thus sign up to friending requests, both online and offline, without a deep understanding of the relationship commitments involved.” The case can be made for having friendships online rather than in-person socialization, but there are still adherents to the old-fashioned way.

Monica Kim, a student at LPC, described her social connections as the opposite of friendship. “I like to stay in touch with friends by meeting up with them in person,” she stated. “I used to text people a lot, but we’re older now, and we don’t have time to sit down on our phones and type out all these life updates back and forth. I find it more enjoyable to go out and do something with someone you’d like to catch up with.” 


Once life started to arrive, the difference between who is a friend and who isn’t is revealed. The realization that not all 150 followers on Twitter are reliable. You may need to ask yourself who are the friends that you can actually trust. Will one of your so-called friends offer support in an emergency? Will they have your back when confronted with injustice or will they simply like, retweet and be done with it. Or worse, glance over and move on to a cat video.  


Oxford University psychology professor Robin Dunbar theorizes that people can only maintain about 150 stable relationships. But even of the 150 relationships, an average of 4.1 are dependable and 13.6 express sympathy during crisis. This disparity is deflating, but it’s the truth. The help and guidance from the 4.1 friends will show up because those relationships have been established. 


“Social media is meant for keeping up with others’ lives because we are nosy by human nature, so that’s exactly what we do,” Kim said. 


Half of people look for social interactions outside the walls of their house. The other half seek interactions and comfort from social media apps.


At its core, the definition of friendship hasn’t changed. It still represents the need to form connections and cultivate love, or philia. But the current trend of the world is that we access friends differently, and with that the meaning assigned to friendship is changing. And not for better.