When I’m talking about Facebook, or explaining it to someone who may not be familiar with the social network, it generally comes up that I have a lot of connections on Facebook. As of December 8, 2008, I have 1478 “Friends” on Facebook. Now, many people handle their Friend Requests differently on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. Since it is a social “networking” tool, I tend to not be too conservative with how many I accept. Considering that pomomusings has a very high readership, there are many folks who want to be “friends” on Facebook who I have never met and only are blog readers. We have no connection other than that. And I don’t want to alienate any readers of my blog, so I generally accept those Friend Requests. My new policy is that if I don’t know the person, and we have zero friends in common, I will ignore their Friend Request (unless they’ve written a personal message saying why they wish to connect). At any rate, with all of these social networking sites and different ways of connecting, it raises a number of issues to think about, specifically related to how we define “friend” in this web 2.0 world.
What is a friend?
One of the first natural questions is “What is a friend?” I have 1478 friends on Facebook, 179 connections on LinkedIn, 366 followers on Twitter, 682 people subscribed to pomomusings RSS Feed and an average of 700 unique visitors a day here at pomomusings. Am I truly “friends” with each of those people? Would I feel comfortable calling them up and having a conversation? Of course not. There are some people on Facebook who I’ve never met (and probably never will) who I am friends with. There are some people on Facebook who I disagree with very strongly who I am friends with. And there are probably even some people on Facebook who I don’t really like, but I am still “friends” with them for whatever reason.
So, are there levels of friendship? Or do these types of social networking sites simply downgrade our value put on friendship? Does it spread our friendships so wide that they get stretched too thin? In some email correspondence with a pastor I used to work with, he told me he believes that there are some friendships in our lives that are meant for certain seasons of our lives; they aren’t meant to continue beyond a certain specific location or phase of our lives. So, while I know he sees the benefits of social networking sites like Facebook, he would say that it makes staying in touch with people who we should probably “move on from” too easy.
What do you think? Are there friendships that are probably better in the past, rather than continuing them on indefinitely, which is now possible with sites like Facebook? These aren’t questions I necessarily have answers for, but would love to know your thoughts. I’m inclined to believe that perhaps he is right about certain relationships being better off just as memories in the past, than in continuing to develop. But I also think there are those relationships that we want to continue to foster and develop, even though we may be in different geographic places now.
Also, while I certainly use Facebook as one of the primary ways to stay up-to-date with some of my close friends, it’s also a way for me to network and make connections with a large group of people. So, in a way, I suppose that these types of social networking sites, while creating large web-like structures for friendship, as least in my experience, it simultaneously creates a new type of hierarchy, in which there are ways in which I tend to place a higher priority on some of my Facebook friends than others [we’ll see if I lose any friends with this post]. Is it just me – or does anyone else experience anything like this?
Another interesting question is the idea of “un-friending” people on Facebook and other social networking sites. One of my friends from Columbia Seminary, Jeff, has held two rounds so far of the “Facebook Friend Clear-Out” (I actually got cut in the second round, but I’m back in now – no worries). What does it mean to un-friend people in an era of social networking? I went through a phase when I first started with Facebook that I would just accept anyone’s Friend Request that came in. However, around six months ago, I started to think “I should really go in and trim down those friends…” But – are we at a stage yet where that is acceptable Facebook/MySpace etiquette? Or is that something that would still be seen as an affront against the person you’re removing as a “friend?”
Anyway – let me know your thoughts on all of this. Maybe I’m just way off and making too big a deal about this. But it does seem like in our world of social networking, the concept and definition of “friend” is under re-evaluation and it will be interesting if this technology begins to have an impact on sociology and the way in which we relate to one another and befriend one another.