"Defriend" has taken its place in the dictionary alongside "friend" used as a verb. "Will you friend me?" is the question of the year, typed in by users of Facebook, 550 million strong. (You read that right.)
The tidal wave of those "friending" and "defriending" speaks languages globally. One out of every dozen earthlings has a Facebook account.
In this country, almost half of all Americans use Facebook as a way to connect to friends and create a support network on the Internet.
Facebook, the brainchild of Mark Zuckerberg, who started the site from his Harvard dorm room seven years ago, is the cultural "phenom" of the decade.
Zuckerberg, 27, is a billionaire, (richer than Apple's Steve Jobs,) and Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2010. Plus, he is the subject of a movie, "The Social Network."
He started Facebook as an online meeting place for college buddies to keep in touch, poke fun at each other's photographs, list likes and dislikes, a shared diary of sorts.
Fast-forward to a global interactive network of Facebook users today: 16 million in India, another 3 million in Russia and nearly 100,000 in Afghanistan where most subscribers are men, since, sadly, few women read.
Then, there are the Chinese subscribers, plus those in Japan, Brazil, Iceland and Columbia with 11 million users.
A Facebook connection is a staple in the lives of Internet disciples seeking "trust relationships," those, hopefully, with a broader base than interaction between e-mail accounts.
In a world where we remove ourselves from community to stare at a computer screen, we also take time to post thousands of messages on Facebook sites every day.
We may wander the Internet in a solitary mood, but Facebook allows those we have "friended" to follow along, comment on our vacation plans and read our musings on life from miles away.
Those with crystal balls predict Facebook will claim a membership of one billion users by 2012.
The cautious observer might wonder how authentic relationships are nurtured when they are filtered through technology where we create our own personas and insulate ourselves from the one-on-one honesty true friendships endure.
Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, writes of our true natures, reminding us we are not wired to sustain "face to face interaction" with more than a few people.
Her research found just five close friends require at least 40 percent of our "limited social time each week."
The true depth of meaningful friendship is "dependent on our investment in it," she concludes.
Dr. Dunbar argues our minds can only handle a limited commitment to our social lives. Too much emotional energy expended and we become a raw nerve.
That may explain why as age claims us, we pull back, settling into a comfort zone of those we love and who love us, letting go of obligations, of small talk, forced smiles and air kisses.
The sweetest story of friendship I know begins with two little girls who meet in the first grade. They grow up together, leave town to study at different colleges, but come home to marry young men who went to war at barely 20.
The wives are defined, in part, by those years of loss and separation. They are godmothers to each other's children, living two blocks apart, offering support, and when needed, supper brought in.
One of the women, in her 80s now, was near death last summer. Her oldest friend sat by her bed every day. They held hands and sang songs from the l940s.
They had known each other for the better parts of their lives and they remained just that, the better parts of each other's lives.
This past week, Facebook was granted a market value of $50 billion. The value of lifelong devotion between friends remains priceless.
Judy Elliott is an award-winning columnist from Marietta.