Friend, or not?

At a recent work-related gathering a friend(?) of mine made a comment along the lines that he knows who are his friends because they are the people with whom he socialises. By implication, people he works with are unlikely to be friends.

This set me thinking (yes, maybe I do too much of that!). Perhaps partly because of my ersthile by local role as a vicar, most of the people that I know, and may think of a friends, I have got to know through “work,” or perhaps through a local club related to one of my hobbies, or some course of study. If I were to define my friends as only those I (just) socialise with (and what does that mean?) it would be a small bunch indeed.

I find myself wondering how technological and other changes have affected what it means to be a friend. A century or so ago, before the easy transport that we take for granted today, most people's friendship group would have been those in their local neighbourhood, and they would have got to know one another through living near to one another and attending the local school together. At the other extreme, today, a friend is someone I am unwilling to refuse access to my Facebook profile.

Changes in technology, transport, and access to university education, all make it easier to build geographically wider communities – of friends or at least acquaintances. The technology ranges from the telephone to e-mail to Second Life.

I could define friends as people who enjoy one another's company, without seeking gain from that. I could recognise friends as those who are there for me when I am in need, and I for them (yes, I recongise the Biblical alusions). So how important to friendship is physical presence (touch, or literally a shoulder to cry on)? Is the nature of friendship changing? If so, is that for better or for worse?

Answers and insights welcome…