Wednesday, June 22, 2011

No One Has 217 Friends

It's done. After steadily increasing unease at the time I was wasting on Facebook, I "deactivated" my account. From what I understand, it's more difficult still to permanently delete one's account. I saved that for later, until a moment when I'm certain I'm finished with them forever: for instance, like everyone who ever had a MySpace page.

At the moment of my departure, I allegedly had 217 friends. And this after culling a few dozen over the past month. Long before, I'd created three tiers and made separate lists for each. One was called "Real Friends," the next was "Second Tier," and the third, just like the 90+ percent of French subjects in the Third Estate prior to the Revolution, was "Everybody Else." If you ever ask me where you were, I will certainly tell you that I'd included you among my "Real Friends," so don't worry. I always read the goings-on of my "Real Friends" first, sometimes moved to "Second Tier," and far less often waded through the confusion of "Everybody Else."

In the United States we suffer from an imprecision when using the word "friend." The best I can tell, we utter it when we are referring to people with whom we're more than casually acquainted, but with whom we are not overtly "enemies." I mean, in what other society could the word "frenemy" emerge? You call each other friends, and you put on a good show, but in reality you seek to undermine the other subtly?

Most of my 217 Facebook friends were current or former students. I like them all. But to say I'm friends in the American sense of the word is to merely assert, banally, that we're not outright enemies. I'd decided long ago to friend anyone on Facebook who requested it and with whom I'd had at least some level of interaction. The volume of idiocy that came from some of their accounts led me to block a few from my news feeds (if you're reading this, then no, I don't mean you). Only in the last few weeks did I begin deleting those who'd friended me years ago whom I'd subsequently blocked. The logic of this move compelled me to reconsider the whole enterprise -- why was I on Facebook at all?

Facebook became mandatory for me when I was a beginning student of Italian in the fall of 2008. Our teacher created a Facebook group for us, and I was quickly seduced by the novelty and especially the reconnections with long-lost acquaintances from college, high school, and graduate school. I began squandering inordinate amounts of time and creative energy. This blog was the first casualty. My posting volume here declined drastically as I discovered whatever I wrote on Facebook was far more likely to provoke at least a "Like" or a brief comment from an identifiable source.

Within the last few weeks, I've both read a story maintaining that Facebook has lost participants in the U.S. and I've purchased shares in Google, one of Facebook's main competitors. Both these moves led me to think seriously about what Facebook offered me versus what it asked of me. It gave me easy connections, along with quick but random feedback from supposed friends to whatever happened to be exciting me at any given moment. It demanded in return my self-control, my attention, my time, my energy, and whatever ideas about friendship I'd developed prior to 2008. The trade only worked when its terms were invisible to me. As I slowly realized how much I'd conceded to Facebook in exchange for the chimera of online friendship, I grew more and more dismayed at what I'd forsaken, and for so little.

Count me out now. If I could sell Facebook's stock short, I would. They have yet to offer shares to the public, however. Rumors are that their initial public offering of stock may come this autumn. I will grant that they are competitor-free and keep hundreds of millions of eyes glued to their screens every day. No one will be able to disrupt their business from outside. My concern as a potential investor would be about internal rot, however: how long before more and more users realize that real friends count for far more than online ones, that every moment spent interacting with cyber-friends is a moment lost with real ones, and that the measure of our worth is not our friend count, but whether we can count on our friends?


ktnvadakin said...

Hope you post pictures of your travels here. I'll miss seeing Europe vicariously through you.

Dan Rogers said...

I'll post the photos here...but my next trip won't be for a while.