Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Facebook "Friends" and Pseudo Networks

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.


Alan said...

I hear you there. It's annoying that a mere acquaintance would get offended when I remove them from my friends list. As a side not, Facebook does not notify them if you remove them from your friends list. Some people just check it so often, they quickly recognize that they can no longer see your profile.

Anonymous said...

Aaron....silly me. I thought Facebook was a fun, harmless tool to maintain contact with people that you don't see every day but still consider friends. I think you've overanalyzed the cosmic meaning of Facebook in your blog post. I'd like to think that I have FB in it's proper perspective....and you my friend should reconsider your position.

Sorry that you consider some of us "pseudo friends" not worth keeping on your active roster. But hey, I don't live that far away...so our paths will cross again.

By the way, I still maintain friendships with the Longs, Norwoods, Wheelers, Bryants, and Vinsons despite not seeing them much.

By the way.....you have an interesting blog. I've bookmarked it and will check back to see if you post my comments or not. Maybe you'll surprise me.....

Mike Judd

Monk321 said...

I think I should have a reasonable expectation of maintaining contact with people apart from Facebook in order to use Facebook for the contact. The key words are "reasonable expectation." If I randomly ran into an old friend out of the blue, I certainly would introduce them to whoever I was with at the time as my "friend." Why wouldn't I? However, I had no "reasonable expectation" of running into them, since I has not maintained contact through other methods. I don't want to use Facebook to be dishonest about how many people I actually stay in touch with otherwise. Someone may look at my list of "friends" and think "wow! he's popular." No, he's just too lazy to update his contact list.

Anonymous said...

Aaron.....wow!! I'll say it again. You've WAY OVERANALYZED the usage of Facebook and managed to take all the fun out of it.

Don't be so legalistic about this...and don't be so overwrought about your friendships either. Take a break from all the navel-gazing once in awhile and relax.

In case I haven't been clear, I disagree 100% with your position on Facebook.

Anyway....gotta run. I need to get on FB so I can develop pseudo friendships with mere acquaintances like my barber, mailman, and lawnboy.

--Mike Judd

Monk321 said...

Fortunately, it is not necessary that others agree with my position. Nor is it required that they benefit from my "navel-gazing." On the other hand, the tone of rhetoric does somewhat demonstrate my lament that severing computer connections has risen to the level of a cultural insult. Sad. It's a computer, not a slap.

Naomi said...

All I can say is...Oh my!

Anonymous said...

Read your blog and I must say I would be somewhat offended if I were "defriended". I might add that I was defriended by someone and had the thought of "um...I thought we were friends, I wonder why she would have DELETED me from her list. I don't see most of the people on my list, but do consider them friends/aquaintances of varying intimacies. I life the fact that I am seeing what high school friends are up to after all these years. Seeing their families, what they are doing with their lives, etc. Will they become close, personal friends now that they are Facebook friends? Of course not, because most of them have totally different life styles which I would not want to immerse myself in. Should I DELETE you because we no longer have coffee at Starbucks? After all we have not even talked that much at church in the last few weeks. Of course I wouldn't do that...because I still consider you to be my friend. I agree that with facebook "friends" you might well have taken it way too literally. Mine aren't psuedo friends...they are just friends of differing levels of closeness. And one can never have too many friends. If you start "weeding them out" depending on your qualifications...someday you could find yourself a little lonier.
(hopefully still on the list)

Anonymous said...

Dr. Ott.....thanks for mentioning "the tone of rhetoric" in your last reply. I avoided mention of the tone of your blog post because I wanted to focus on the topic of friendship and pseudo-networks.

The primary reason I commented on your original blog post however was because of its tone. A tone that managed to be both patronizing and condescending.

As proof that said condescension wasn't an isolated one-time event, your reply today continued the derision:

Example #1:
"Sad. Its a computer not a slap"

Example #2:
"The tone of rhetoric...."

Here you've reduced my honest commentary to the level of mere bluster. According to the definition of rhetoric, my feelings can't be rhetorical if I truly believe them. But you chose to sneer at them anyway.

You know....I've never really considered you an arrogant person. Was I wrong?


Monk321 said...


Anonymous said...

I don't use Facebook for any of the above reasons. I use it to stalk you people. I read your notes, your comments, your posts and status updates. I look at your pictures, all of them. I know who is talking to who, who isn't talking to who, who is mad, sad, happy, or tired. I know your children's names, nicknames, your dog's names, what color you are feeling today, which Twilight you are most likely to fall in love with, what your favorite songs and music groups are. I've seen your vacation pictures, your sons and daughters smoochin' with their significant others, pictures of you as a child, your Christmas picures, your birthday pictures and even your "just because I have camera" pictures. I know what you do when you are bored, I've read all "100 truths about me", I know when your neighbor has left his Christmas lights up too long. I know where you work and in some cases, what your phone number is. I know where you went to elementary school, high school and college. I know when you are going to be at the DTS library all evening and when you walk the bridge. I gather this information and hold on to it, filing it for such an occasion in which it might be needed. I am the Facebook stalker.

Monk321 said...


CMWoodall said...

***comments are always funner that the post~me.

I have no way to keep fleshy contact with the 2 dozen contacts I made whilst in Australia in 1993. But the reality of the friendships from way back caused me to open a FB account in the first place [or maybe it was this friend that kept asking, "are you on FB yet?"]
I found all those friends with this tool and I'm sure glad that I did. It has been mutually enriching to reconnect after the long years.
But I have to agree with Monk about the guy that sat in my physics class in 1990--he constantly wants to add me as a 'friend.' If we did not make friends in HS it's not going to happen electronically all these years later. I could be wrong. Maybe he heard about my life from a mutual friend and just wants to chat me up about his life. Maybe he is a great guy; maybe even a worker in the vineyard. But he could also be trying to fish for an old crush. No thanks. If I 'know' you...I 'know' you--If I don't then leave well enough alone.***

Naomi said...

I think I saw this Seinfeld episode!