IF ever you feel sadly alone, you needn’t. A band of strangers that you can call your “Facebook friends” is metaphorically circling outside your window, like starving bats, waiting for you to log on.
I find this incredibly creepy. Dinosaur that I am, I don’t “get” the new phenomenon of “social networking,” which of course is unsociably done online via numerous networks besides Facebook. They include MySpace, LinkedIn, Meebo, and Twitter. Unlike most of them, Twitter.com apparently only allows you to ask your contacts one question: “What are you doing?” One can imagine how fascinating the responses to this must be from Twitter’s primarily 18- to-27-year-old demographic. “Watching TV.” “Eating bacon.” “Cleaning my infected piercing.”
Bring on the Pulitzers.
Some people actually belong to several social networks in a desperate effort not to let a single associate elude their grasp. “Forsooth,” I say unto them, “why don’t thou pick up thy quill and parchment and write a real letter to all thine so-called friends?” I’ll tell them exactly why -- because these chummy correspondents aren’t their friends. They’re just strangers they haven’t learned to avoid yet.
If you don’t know what Facebook is, I can explain, because my husband, Stanley, just ran me through his own Facebook profile. Essentially, the profile is a boasty thing you write about yourself online, posting an interesting or ridiculously flattering picture of you beside it. You say whether you are married, what your politics are (if any), what your favourite books are (if any; I have my doubts that most people on Facebook have time to read anything but Facebook drivel); what recent movies you’ve liked; and other meaningless Playmate-of-the-Month-type information. If you wish, you can insert updates about your life as often as you want, i.e. “Stanley has just washed his hands in anticipation of barbecued ribs for lunch.”
I’m not kidding you: this is the kind of thing people routinely post. “Kate is rummaging though old plastic bags because she’s going to take her dog for a walk” is what I would write if I were on Facebook. Anything more scintillating would simply be untrue.
Once you’ve forged a profile for yourself on the network, you send an announcement to everyone you want to get Facebook time with, asking if they’d like to be your Facebook friend. They can choose to ignore you (“Faceslamming”), leaving you out in the cold, or admit you into their hallowed hall with the other 2,000 people they want to alert to their pedestrian lunch plans and imminent mole extractions. Be warned: it’s a touchy situation to take someone off your list once they’re on -- it’s like shutting your door in the face of a would-be visitor.
Stanley made the mistake of sending an invitation to be his Facebook friend to every entry in his enormous online address file, which is like sending a request to everybody in your high school yearbook to send you their grocery lists. Vacation photos, for instance, are high on the list of Facebook fun-to-sends -- you know how insanely boring they can be. It may be vaguely interesting to see the holiday pics of your 10 best buds and a handful of your closest blood relations. But Stanley gets alerted to, for instance, the latest photo posts from obscure people he once gave a speech to in Australia, or his favourite fishmonger.
I’m sorry -- these people are not our friends. A friend is somebody who wouldn’t dream of missing your funeral. One could even choose one’s friends on the basis of how useful they could be at that event -- so-and-so makes terrific sandwiches; what’s-her-name can sing like an angel; artsy you-know-who could make the urn; and like that.
At the same time as Stanley doesn’t have time to regularly contact numerous longtime pals or far-flung relatives and ask how they’re doing (admittedly, nor do I), he’s apparently sharing images of our summer hijinks with the guy who cleaned our carpets. Another dear friend, who claims he never responds to my e-mails because he’s intimidated that I’m a writer, now posts things on Facebook for all the world to see. I’m tempted to join just to publicly mock him for it, but I suppose that would prove his point.
Now, I have nothing against online communications. On the contrary, on an average day, I probably e-mail a handful of my nearest and dearest 40 to 50 times, whether they like it or not. True, these brief missives tend to be notes and jokes, not memorable masterpieces. But I value e-mail highly because, without dropping everything I’m doing to pick up the phone, I can get an update from a friend whose parent is ailing, exchange banter and make plans with another, exchange a few pithy insults with Stanley, find out what my sister’s daughters have been up to, get something funny from my mother, and hear about another friend’s new job.
This, to me, is worthwhile. I’m keeping up with the people I care about and letting them know I’m thinking of them. It’s completely different from posting announcements about my every belch on Facebook, as if anybody has the time or inclination to pay attention. If I knew even a solitary person who was interested in the minutiae of my day, he or she would sink irredeemably in my estimation.
But Stanley says it’s not like that. He doesn’t have to look at Bruce from Australia’s “My Afternoon at Bondi Beach” slide show, unless he wants to, which he doesn’t. I then ask him why the Aussie, if he’s got any brains, would want to see us cavorting in Malibu? Isn’t it boring enough having the “How was your day” exchange with your spouse and kids, without the potential yawner of having it with hundreds of acquaintances?
As a stranger called Steve Rubel recently wrote in a blog called Micro Persuasion, social networking is redefining friendship, focusing it on quantity and not quality. He knows people who boast about how many Facebook friends they have.
To me, that’s pitiful. These are not your friends, they’re your cling-ons. Except for your handful of intimates, who may also be on Facebook, these people are like lint to your sweater, and vice versa.
No doubt they are perfectly nice, as are you. But would you and this person consider cutting your palms and becoming blood brothers? If not, I’d Faceslam them.
But then, I can count my “social network” on my fingers and toes. Poor, poor, pitiful me.