Everyone’s got an opinion about Facebook and now I’m joining the fray. We all could have seen that coming when I got some time on my hands, couldn’t we?
The bulk of the articles I read about Facebook involve who gets to see what. Does Facebook get to use your info / share your info / keep your info even if you leave, yada yada yada? I’m not staying up nights on this one. There are other people all over that and God bless ’em.
What is keeping me up nights is the definition of “friend.” Everyone from the New York Times to Burger King have weighed in on this one. It’s a tenacious question because it’s not a cyber problem but you’ve got to pick a cyber lane.
This is my offline friend calculus. Facebook, you’ve forced me to put it in writing.
- Your (super)friends. People who would bail you out of jail. Other people call these just “friends”, but I guess that depends on how many times you’ve been in jail and how much bail money your friends have.
- Your friends. Fine. You have dinner. You know some secrets, but not the ones you haven’t sorted out in therapy yet. Everyone’s got a healthy respect for boundaries, no one’s straying into no man’s land with weird-ass phone calls at 2AM when you’re drunk, and if you do call from jail, they pretend it didn’t happen. Done.
- People you have known for a long time. Once someone has known you for more than five years and you’re still on speaking terms, membership rolls over to the next highest level of service, namely “friends.” Think of it like a credit limit increase: it can be handy to have when you’ve been mugged in Uruguay but it’s a dangerous thing on your average weekend. Too late now though. You should have been more careful with those virtual Christmas cards.
- People who know your name. Traditionally, these are not called friends unless you are a politician or from the south. These are acquaintances.
- People who think they’re your friends because you shared something one time. That something might be, say, “being alive in the same place at the same time.” This category of person is particularly active on Facebook.
- People you thought were actual friends but who turned out to not be your friends when the chips were down and you only had that one phone call. If you’re an emotional bad-ass and not a public figure, you can kick these people to the curb and never look back. On the other end, if you’re the Dali Lama, you love them anyway.
If you’re emotionally sophisticated and have better things to do with your time than worry about jerks, you demote them to acquaintances (without telling them) and leave it on the playground. That’s R. He does that. I don’t do that.
If you’re me, you agonize about it endlessly and try to work it out in your head, then try to show your work on paper, then you bore your actual friends with talking about your former actual friends and how disappointing they are. Time passes. And then one day, they friend on you Facebook and…what the hell is going on??
- People you hate and who should know it because they were so terrible that they drove you to fire them (literally) or be rude to their faces (which is very uncharacteristic of me, I should note – I’m from New England and I generally prefer passive aggression.) Two such people friended me last week. My question for them is, “How dumb are you? Were you dropped on your head? Are you that guy in Germany with literally half a brain who acts normal but has HALF A BRAIN? You know who I mean: the one who had a stent when he was a kid but it closed and fluid filled his head where his brain should have developed but his brain developed anyway, just in half the space. That guy. Are you that guy? ARE YOU?”
How do these translate to Facebook? 1 and 2? Fine. 3 and 4? Also fine – you’re not going to sort that out online anyway. 7? You’re out. Forget it. You have dirt for what remains of your brains and there’s no helping it.
5 and 6 are tricky. “Accept” is the passive choice masquerading as the charitable choice, but you know, whichever, right? No harm done in taking the friending and we’ll see what happens, right? Things change – people change – whatever.
On the other hand, every time I log in now I’m seeing all your updates which remind me of why you aren’t my actual friend. Why aren’t you my actual friend anyway? What’s up with that? Now I don’t want to log in because there you are, all up in my business. It’s like I barely know you – or I do know you and we broke up – and then there you are, next to me at the bar, talking with my friends when I stop by for a cocktail and now what?
It turns out, just as this problem was starting to gnaw at me, Facebook came to the rescue. Now I can turn off updates from individual people. So as far as you’re concerned, we’re friends, but I’m not getting dragged into your daily life. Offline passive aggression creeps online. I guess Facebook life isn’t that different from real life after all.