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Hands Across the Sea November 13, 2009

Posted by monty in computers.
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social_networking

I had a MySpace page for a couple years.  It seemed like the cool, hip thing to have for a while, and I loaded up on friends and made some updates and … well, I’m not sure what else I did with it.  At some point I realized that it was quickly becoming the Internet equivalent of Hot Topic (frequented mostly by whiny tweens), and since I’m not the most active social networker out there, I dumped the page several years ago.

Facebook has picked up the slack since then, and it’s been an interesting experience.  I usually post one or two daily updates (pimping this blog, most often), and I’ve got a few other trinkets on there that I keep track of, like my concert calendar and the book I’m currently reading.  It’s not the time-suck for me that I think it is for a lot of people (or at least I always hear people complaining about it being a time-suck, and I have no reason to think they’re lying), but I have to admit that it’s occasionally a nice thing to have.

One of the most interesting things about this whole social networking craze is the notion of online “friends.”  I know some people who routinely brag about the number of friends they have on whatever site(s) they frequent, as though that somehow translates into real-life popularity.  Being friends with people on Facebook has largely been a positive experience – I’ve been able to stay in touch with former students, my three college roommates, and “real” friends I’ve developed over the years, but who now live in far-flung parts of the country and the world.  One of the things I value most is having been able to reconnect with a handful of people from high school whom I genuinely like.  It’s been a gas to find out who they’ve become in the nearly twenty years since we parted company, and I’m glad for the chance to be able to interact with them again, albeit in a different form.

One of the most perplexing things, though, is to get these friend requests from people whom I didn’t know – or, in some cases, like – in high school, and who I’m sure didn’t particularly know or like me.  Case in point: I got a request this morning from a guy who was in my grade, and whom I remember as being a nice enough fella.  We didn’t pal around or anything like that, but I clicked on the link that allowed me to see some of his page, thinking, “Well, it’s worth a look.”  On that minimized page he had listed himself as being a fan of three things: The Bible, the movie Fireproof, and the “No Spin Zone Men’s Club.”  That was all it took for me to ignore his friend request.

Now, look: I have no problem with anyone being a fan of any of those things.  I may not understand it – and it’s certainly not where my interests lie – but I’m not going to begrudge anyone his or her choice in entertainment.  I have to be honest, though, and say that the chances of my being a friend (in the real-world sense of the term) with someone whose three main interests are the Bible, a religious movie starring Kirk Cameron, and the Bill O’Reilly fan club are extremely slim.  Slim, as in zero.  I know that I don’t lose anything by agreeing to be his online buddy – except probably having to put up with some annoying status updates – but I tend to use that “real-world” criteria as a measure of whom I’m going to be friends with on Facebook.

It’s probably stupid to take it so seriously, but what it comes down to is this: I don’t care about what happens to you. Not you specifically, dear reader, but in the general sense.  If I’m going to befriend someone in an online setting, thus giving them access to certain things about me, I have to have some vested interest in his or her life.  I just don’t see the point in befriending someone whom I wouldn’t particularly care to know if I bumped into him on the street.  It enforces a totally bogus sense of community that I’m not especially interested in maintaining.

Does this make me a misanthrope?  Hardly.  The people on my friends list are people I actually like.  I might not talk to all of them as often as I might – there are, in fact, some I haven’t spoken to in years, and a handful whom I’ve never spoken to outside of a computerized setting – but I think the important thing is that they’re people I’d at least like to talk to.  I just don’t understand this business of collecting friends – like they’re baseball cards or Precious Moments figurines – even though you have no real interest in them or anything they’re doing.

I know it doesn’t do anyone any harm, but on some level it speaks to the issue of authenticity, I think.  The use of the word “friend” to describe someone you haven’t spoken to in years, and who could drop off the face of the earth without affecting you in any way, cheapens the language.  Just because you know someone doesn’t make him or her a friend, and it seems as though we should resist this forced intimacy between ourselves and people who amount to little more than complete strangers.

I’d be more amenable to the friends list if Facebook had a friends hierarchy.  Maybe Friends, Acquaintances, and People I’m Glad Aren’t Dead.  Depending on which category you put someone in they’d have access to different sorts of information about you, and you about them.  There are some people whose updates are fun to read all the time, some who are fun to read some of the time, and some who make me want to spray my computer screen with Lysol.  Having some useful categories for “Friends” might cut down on the level of annoyance generated by unwelcome updates.

And I include myself in there, by the way.  I’m sure there are some people who get tired of seeing my daily reminders to read this blog, or who are much more politically patient than I, and generously put up with my lefty whining.  If they could put me in the People I’m Glad Aren’t Dead category, they’d be spared having to read my output.  It wouldn’t offend me – like in real life, it’d nice to know whom you can really trust.

At any rate, it’s a bizarre little complication to see how the Internet has changed, and continues to change, the nature of interpersonal relationships.  And, because I’m a paranoid, walking contradiction, I’ll now be checking my friends list daily to see who drops me as a result of this post.

*****

Current listening:

Them Crooked Vultures

Them Crooked Vultures – Self-titled

Last movie seen:

pirateradio_poster_s

Pirate Radio (Richard Curtis, dir.)

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Comments»

1. thoreauly77 - November 14, 2009

FB is handy to me for the same reasons. growing up in the military just made it too damn difficult to keep up with people, but FB allows a certain sense of awareness. example: an ex-girlfriend of mine just posted over fifty pictures of me from when we lived in italy; fifty photos i had NEVER seen. now that is cool!

but yeah, i could do without the farm updates, and my aunt talking incessantly about her red-faced barbeque-hound boyfriend, and people that just write things like “.” and “well then, no!”.

but shit, sometimes i just want to post pictures of danzig serving devils food cake.

any thoughts on myspace white flight?

2. Bossy Betty - November 14, 2009

Love the idea of different categories. May I had another? It would be the “I thought I wanted to be your friend, but now I’ve changed my mind since you sort of scare me and remind of parts of my past I’d really, really like to forget and also your incessant Farmville references are annoying, but I don’t want to appear rude, so I am putting you in this category” category.


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