In Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World, Lynne M. Baab thoughtfully explores many aspects of modern friendship. Baab does so, largely, from a Christian perspective with particular consideration for how social media affects friendship these days — for better or for worse. I found the book an enjoyable read and recommend it to individuals and book groups who care to consider our modern friendship predicament.
The book begins with several chapters that consider the challenges of friendship in our virtual world. Baab, a professor in New Zealand with strong ties to the U.S., appreciates how communication technologies allow her to keep up her worldwide friendships relatively easily. Though, she admits, “nothing replaces a hug.”
Baab advocates a complex understanding of how social media affects friendships, longing “for leaders, ministers, writers and observers of culture to stop describing electronic community in black-and-white terms, to stop viewing it all as bad or, as occasionally happens, as all good.” This balance serves Baab well, and allows for folks who come to the book with different perspectives on technology to consider both sides.
Later, the work considers more broadly questions about how to make and keep friends, questions that are not specific to modern friendship. In chapters on friendship with God, and the practices of friendship — sharing, caring, being together, being apart, pacing, choosing, accepting, forgiving — Baab reflects on what makes friendships work (or not) and how to cultivate healthy friendships. Each chapter concludes with half a dozen questions for “reflection, journaling, discussion or action.”
As someone who has moved many times in the last six years, I’ve wrestled with many of the challenges Baab discusses. How and when it is it appropriate to initiate a friendship in a new place? How often should we hang out when we do become friends? How do I balance old friends with new? Though I often discuss such questions with my partner Megan, it is seldom that I read others considering the same conundrums. Friending does well to begin a broader conversation.
Perhaps it’s unfair, then, to criticize Friending for not going further. I did note, however, that Baab did not directly tackle one modern challenge of friendship in my life, mainly how to make and maintain friendships with people of widely different perspectives. U.S. culture, at least, is becoming more and more stratified and people are tending to associate only with like-minded individuals. A discussion of these challenges would have been helpful for me, especially with an eye to friendships across faith perspectives.
Overall, though, Friending is a helpful foray into what friendship looks like these days. At 182 pages, it can only do so much, but its personal and reflective tone reads smoothly and serves as a nice introduction to friendship. Thanks, Lynne Baab. You have a virtual friend in me.