Every August we celebrate the International Friendship Day, Week and of course- the Friendship Month; an entire thirty-one days dedicated to the people that make our lives that much more fun. Assuming that your memories aren’t too hazy, tell me this: how many of you actually wished your friends a ‘Happy Friendship Day!” face-to-face rather than through Facebook, two months back?

Even all the texts and phone-calls must have been outnumbered by your ‘posts’, ‘tweets’ and ‘comments’, eh? So if I stand now and say that social networking sites haven’t changed the face (pun intended) of friendship, that would certainly be more than just stretching the truth. The Internet opened up for us an entirely new vista of networking and now, going back seems not just impossible but completely undesirable as well.

A few weeks ago, one of my best buddies called me up (after days of no-talking-only-chatting, might I add) to confirm our plans of attending a certain food festival. When I told her that I wouldn’t be able to make it to the fest- that was, needless to say, set up with the help of our indispensable FB Events- the first thing she did before whining, pleading and finally hanging up on me was to threaten to flood my ‘wall’ AND delete me from her ‘friends list’. Her words, to be specific, were “Don’t even dare to open your profile page now”; and no, I’m not kidding.

Let’s imagine this same incident taking place, at current time, but with no social networks in the picture, whatsoever. Most probably, my friend would’ve not talked to me for (at-least) a few days and crafted horrors for me to live through that I’d rather not think of at this moment. Instead, because of a few quick comments: “apology accepted”.

And then the two of us started updating on Twitter and GooglePlus. Redefined friendship? Yes.

But then there are so many social networks out there, and how a person can handle half a dozen different online profiles on themselves is one thing that escapes me entirely. Yet, I know a lot of people who’re on not just all the standard Twitter, Digg, Myspace, Bebo, Blogger, Wordpress etc. but on about 3-4 more websites, whose names I can’t even pretend to remember. What is alarming, however, is the sheer number of ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ or ‘fans’ they have in each of the pages; and if I ever ask whether they actually know just half of their online community, the answer is always positive. Or else, that they’re “getting along anyway”.

To that, I can’t complain. Even I, who check and double check every single friend request before accepting it, have made a few exceptions and ‘added’ friends just because I had a strong feeling about them. The thing that surprises me? I haven’t regretted befriending any of them! Indeed, I wouldn’t have met some my now best-friends if it weren’t for Veritaserum’s Forum and ChatRoom, Social Living’s Virtual Library and a friend of an acquaintance of a senior on my ‘friend list’. Turns out, for the slightly…ahem...eccentric, who feel like they don’t quite fit in, meeting people online who share the same interests and obsessions as you is exhilarating. That wonderful feeling you get when they comment, “I know how you feel”…it just fills your heart with joy and leaves you grinning at your laptop screen like an idiot. Perhaps that is why my brother and so many of his friends spend hours logged-on into their Liverpool Club fanbases!

Friendship on social networking sites mean so much more! You can chat all night about colleges, or cats, or cauldrons and broomsticks and the other person will be just as happy doing that with you. You can be ‘friends’ with your mom, ‘stalk’ celebrities and keep ‘messaging’ your new boss. You can share news, views, your joys and sorrows and aspirations; and sometimes you can even end up getting married to a stranger you met on Facebook! When your closest friends are moving away, you have the consolation of the Internet. At-least you can Skype, right? Even if your folks are around and you can’t talk to your bestie on the phone, a text “Oi, can u come on9?”, and two minutes later, you’re already knee-deep into a long heart-to-heart session. And if your cousin just had a kid back in the US, you can still see the newborn and blow him kisses.

Today, in my friend-lists, I have kindergarten classmates, grade 1 seat-partners, 5th grade bus-buddies, 8th grade arch-enemies, poetry enthusiasts, fellow Harry Potter fanatics, and so many other people I’ve met at one occasion or the other. While on one hand, only a handful of my real-life friends that regularly ‘like’ and ‘comment’ and ‘post’ on my ‘wall’, on the other, I have people who almost everyday have something to ‘share’ with me, even though we’ve never actually talked (or even seen) each other in person. Ironical as it may seem, I got this writing job because of a message I’d sent on Facebook and the very first people I asked opinions about this very article were the friends I’d met online. Redefined friendship? Yes.

But then, haven’t you ever thought why there still are ‘crazy’ people who don’t yet have a single page online? I myself know a few who have so heroically, in my opinion, not joined the virtual world; not because they want to be ‘better-off’ or ‘get a life’ but because they don’t want to be drawn in. These people would rather just call you up on the phone if they fancy a chat rather that engage in a lengthy series of *hugs*, *winks* and “gtg, ttyl”s; and sometimes I wonder whether that really is the wiser thing to do.

Yes, we still go out with friends occasionally and there’s no replacement of the window-shopping and pani-puri eating contests yet (God forbid), but today, in the flux of life and our increasing busy schedules, has social networking thrown us deeper in the dark waters of the virtual world? A world where you have more friends online but lesser friends in-person? Seriously, is that what has become of the golden bond of ‘friendship’? And if yes, is that a worthy substitution?

It all comes down to one question really; can you consider the people (or shall I say ‘profiles’) you have this virtual relationship with as your friends? Is that all it takes today, to make friends? Think once, before you jump online the next time, is that all it takes, in the 21st century to forge a true connection with another person- a friend request and a smiley?
Redefined friendship? Yes. But better or not, it’s up to you to decide.