When I take my daughter out to places like the beach, the pool, the zoo, and there are any other
children girls there approximately her age, she’ll hang out around the perimeter, play a little, look at them again, play a little closer, etc., until she finally gets up the courage to go and ask if they want to play with her. Sometimes names are exchanged right away, sometimes later, but, almost always, they become her “friend,” just for that little while of shared experience and entertainment.
I envy her her ease and confidence while hoping that it persists in the face of the disappointments and frustrations of school friendships and cliques.
When I logged in to facebook yesterday, where I have 135 carefully chosen friends, (meaning people I actually know and care to have a conversation with, and who survived a recent “pruning”) I noticed that I had, as usual, some friend “suggestions.” And, as I do every few months or so, I decided to click on the link and see who facebook thought I wanted to be friends with.
There are, currently, 1,860 people facebook is suggesting I might want to be “friends” with. And the most frustrating thing is, I believe I have to delete them individually.
Without going through the laborious task of doing an actual count, I’m going to make some estimates.
92% of them I don’t know at all.
5% I know but don’t really want to know what they’re going to eat today or where they are on vacation or how many laps their child swam at swim practice or which political party they are a member of.
The other 3% would be downright weird to be “friends” with, including my former husband, my husband’s former wife’s new husband, and the woman who made darn sure I wouldn’t be interviewed for the permanent position I had been filling for two years already, contracted by her.
Now I understand that the algorithm is a simple one — if you’re “friends” with this person, there’s a chance you might want to be “friends” with their “friends,” and every once in a while someone does pop up who I had kind of forgotten about and would like to catch up with, like, say an old college roommate. (Although it has happened more than once that, once I do “reconnect,” I remember why we had lost touch with each other in the first place.) I’m not really blaming facebook for this; the algorithm has to function and the network has to grow somehow, and many people see the number in their “friends” column as some kind of indicator of their social viability.
It does make me ponder the nature of friendship itself.
An article from NPR on July 12 points out that sociologists have determined that most people can’t actually keep track of more than 150 people at once, and can facially recognize no more than 1,500. These numbers actually seem a little high, but maybe that’s because I have
ADD some kind of name recall/facial recognition disorder which sometimes prevents me from remembering the name of a student I had in a 15-week class the previous semester.
I am currently following Jeff Nunokawa on facebook, a professor at Princeton who writes a short daily contemplation on a quote from literature, and who I discovered from a mention in a New Yorker article. I like his page, and his contemplations, very much, but wonder if his work is better suited to a blog. Plus facebook is going to cut him off at 5,000 friends, and he’s already at 3,991, so someone someday soon is going to be disappointed.
We also read warnings, and rebuttals of warnings, about children under the age of 13 using social networking sites like facebook.
Only Daughter wants three things right now, and keep in mind that she’s 10: 1) a cell phone, 2) a facebook page, and 3) a boyfriend.
What I want for her is a friend. A real friend. A GIRL friend. Someone she can tell anything to*, with whom she can be completely herself*, who thinks she’s funny and smart and beautiful and strong, and vice versa*. Who is there when she needs her, and accepts her help when she offers it.* Not “friends” who will manipulate her, or use her, or boss her around, or cut her down to make themselves feel better. Who can tell her if her butt actually DOES look big in her pants (fat chance; ha!), if that dress IS too short (if you have to ask, it probably is), if she SHOULD get that pink streak in her hair. I don’t want her bullied, or cyberbullied, texting during class, or sexting, ever, anywhere. But to grow up and have friends like the friends that I am so lucky to have. Who have shared life’s experiences with you, who call you as you reach for the phone to call them, who you can talk to after 6 months and pick up like you just hung up the phone yesterday.
On facebook we post about an interesting article we read, or what we ate for dinner, or what movie we’re going to see, and we post pictures of our kids or our cats or our vacations. But we don’t really talk about anything, because what we talk about depends on who we’re talking to, and there we’re talking to everyone. It’s kind of like trying to be the most popular kid in school, or a popular musician, or a politician. We want everyone to like what they hear, we want everyone to like us, so we can’t really come out and completely be ourselves.
What’s lost, then, in those “relationships”? And what do we lose of ourselves?
I recently read that a blogger who wants to become popular should follow certain guidelines — not be too personal, be consistent (always earnest, say, or always political, or always funny), and not to write more than 600 words because you risk the reader being bored and going somewhere else for quicker, more accessible entertainment (oops; bored yet?).
That’s what facebook, and Twitter, offer. Recently in our city there was a series of tragic, violent acts, committed by a man who was bipolar, not taking his meds, and on cocaine. I tried the next day to read about it, and all I could find through my online news source was a series of twitter-type feeds. Is this the extent of our attention span? And do we have only ourselves to blame?
Roger Ebert posted recently on a bastardization of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The television news is a series of sound bytes that don’t really tell you anything. Our children’s teachers seem to feel that their first job is to be entertaining and their second job is to be fun.
What happened to the idea that the things worth having — skills, abilities, friends — might take work, effort, sustained attention? Instead we’re living in a speed-chess version of relationships, information, thought.
I’m thinking seriously about quitting facebook. I find the illusion of connection often makes me feel more lonely than I would otherwise, and maybe, when I’m just sitting alone in my house, I’d rather be reading a book, or the Sunday Times, or thinking about which friend to call or to invite over for dinner.
(that’s not me)
* Thank you, (you know who you are) — your friendships mean the world to me and I don’t know for sure what I’d do without them. I am so lucky, and can only hope that I’ve repaid you at least in part.