Facebook: Friends Without Benefits

I’m on Facebook now and have been for many months. At first, a few of my close friends found me, although I’m not sure how. Good stuff. These were people I was invested in and who felt a strong tie to me. We had a nice time catching up and sharing information about our lives. We chatted, shared photos, and it all worked well because we knew each other. So, calling them my “friends” seemed right and appropriate.

Long Lost Acquaintances

Then something interesting happened. People I used to know, but haven’t had contact with in 30 years began to request “friendship” status. Because I’m a nice person, and because it might be interesting to see what they had been up to over the last three decades, I began to accept their invitations.  I also extended friendship requests to a few long lost acquaintances.

But after I accepted their friendship, I never heard from them. I offered some initial contact with some of them, and had a few responses that were brief. Most, however, did not respond at all.

A Collections of Names

I noticed that some of my “friends” had hundreds of friends. I saw one “friend” who had almost 2,000 friends. Wow! Then it hit me. They are not in contact with most of their friends. They have simply accumulated a list of names and photos that represent people with whom they have no intention of having any serious dialogue. It’s as though they simply liked to collect “friends” without the concomitant real relationship that typically characteristic friendships. Like a baseball card collection. They were friends without the benefits and responsibilities of friendship.

So, for the most part, I’ve stopped accepting such “friend” requests. It’s not (let’s be  honest) very interesting to have my Facebook account filled with the musings and quips and of people I don’t know. I really don’t care what they had for dinner. I don’t need to spend time gazing at photos of their grandchildren—as cute as they are. So I’ve stopped.

How Does This Shape Us?

What does it say about the nature of friendship, when we claim to have 500 friends, most of whom we never correspond with or really care about.

How does that view of friendship shape our character and how we live in the world?

Thanks for reading,

Wayne

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  1. #1 by Elaine Kluttz on June 27, 2011 - 10:41 pm

    Exactly the reason I will never be on Facebook. I have a sister that wants me to join so she doesn’t have to contact me, for me to know what is going on with her. What does that say? On the other hand, there are few people I want to keep in touch with, and I am more than happy to email and return their emails. As for everyone knowing what I am doing, they can call me or email me if they really want to know, I don’t think my life is that interesting for every one to know what I’m doing.

  2. #2 by Forrest Norman on June 27, 2011 - 11:57 pm

    I have to admit that I am a bit of a fan of the Facebook phenomenon. I was never very good at writing letters, getting addresses and stamps on the envelopes, although I thought about it often. In my minds eye I drafted and re-drafted many a good missive, only for the sentiments never to see the light of day. Many were to superficial friends, many to nascent friendships, some to to girlfriends, and many to family. Facebook offers me two opportunities to cover my letter writing deficiency – by generally telling everyone what I want them to know about me, and by tracking those “friends” (regardless of their classification by depth of friendship). I can acknolwedge their role in my life by the degree to which I reply to their posts. I feel more “socially responsible” now.

    Most friendships are defined not by the word which describes them, but by the character of the friendship itself. Our lexicon gives us two basic words – “friend” or “acquaintance” – which to classify most people. If we had more (the “Eskimos have 26 words for snow” argument), we could categorize them that way. We have euphemisms and idolms, but I think it would be a bit weird to put someone on Facebook and list them as “old flame.”

    While the rules of social interaction change, the fundamentals remain the same. Your true friends are those who stand as friends through thick and thin, who you can trust to discuss serious matters, who genuinely care about you. I’m not sure that facebook will ever change that.

  3. #3 by Wayne on June 28, 2011 - 11:22 am

    Forrest, good insight. I appreciate your point of view. You’re clearly not alone–FB has, what, 500 million members (I am still among them!)? There is a draw here that I believe is tied to our built-in inclination toward connection, which is powerful. We want to be connected. And when we can’t find it, we search for it. I also appreciate your definition of friendship as those who stick with you through thick and thin. I truly appreciate that.
    Thanks for commenting.

  4. #4 by Laurie Bagley on July 1, 2011 - 9:44 pm

    Wow! Great discussion guys! I myself am not on Facebook for many reasons, one of which is a similar philosophy to Elaine’s. However, I do see the draw and know that many of my friends and family stay connected with each other that way so can appreciate Forrest’s viewpoint as well.
    I particularly like his definition of friendship and agree that Facebook does not change that – It is up to us to make sure it doesn’t.

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