One of the alarming phenomena that I have experienced as it relates to cyberspace is the notion that someone is my "friend" simply because Facebook declares them so. So deluded has our culture become to accept electronic connections as a pseudo-stand in for personal contact that networking web sites would have us believe the list of contacts with thumbnail pics or representative avatars constitutes my actual circle of friends.
This was driven home to me lately when I was clearing out my "friends" list on Facebook. It seemed cluttered with contacts that I will not likely seek out time with, implore their opinion on a matter or send them a physical Christmas card. In fact, some on the list will most likely not accompany me to Starbucks for any occassion to enjoy conversation over coffee. With this in mind, I sought to have my "friends" list better reflect my circle of real friends by deleting a few. The response was swift from a few who must have been notified that they had been dropped. Admonishing me to re-list them as "friends," their "friend" requests carried the annoyed tone of slighted comrades.
I must take issue with the notion that an electronic networking medium must become anything more than a way to stay in touch with those whose physical company I would seek anyway. Why is that because Facebook is electronically able to network two web pages, I must now call the person represented by the other page "my friend." The fact that I do not want to list them that way does not make them my enemy. However, "friend" is a term that I would like to see retain its former meaning describing someone with whom I regular share company or would like to.
For example, while many of the electronic "friends" would never make time to have coffee with me (though they live mere minutes away; nor should they since we have so little in common), I have very dear friends who are not members of Facebook (nor will they likely ever be). If my sister, Gaylene, were a Facebook member, she would certainly be among my "friends" because I desire contact with her though distance restricts this. The same is true for my parents as well.
On the other hand, does any of us imagine a Facebook "friends" renunion at some point? Or perhaps a Facebook "friends" Christmas party? Do we really suppose that the internet's ability to connect our computer screens now so closely approximates actual human contact? Or that the casual networking of personal web pages somehow foreshadows genuine human affection?
I bristle at the thought of maintaining two social networks: one of human flesh and the other of bits and bytes. Nay, instead I will list them as "friends" online whose friendship I maintain with pen and paper, with face to face interaction, with family contact or longing in my soul. I find to keep an online circle of "friends" that does not represent the circle I maintain without Facebook is dishonest.