Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On Shallow Friendships and Facebook

 This is for the people always talking about how Facebook has made relationships shallow.
 This is to the people who are too old to use Facebook quite wittily, 
and to those too young to use it safely. 
But it is especially to those who use it well, those that share fantastic articles, awesome new music, artistic photos, and even controversial opinions, but always with the lightest touch.  
Thank you, you have made me a more informed, enlightened and amused person simply by sharing. 

            People talk a lot about how Facebook has replaced quality with quantity, how it has made us too open, over-sharing narcissistic, comparison-dwelling “friend” hoarders.  In many ways, I would agree. Who hasn’t looked at their own profile pictures just because they look dang good? Or felt worse when they see other’s statuses about getting whatever great job, or better when seeing the status of the kid from high school who still doesn’t have a job? (Or friends. But maybe a baby. Just admit it already. If you have 700 friends, there has to be one.)

This was one of my profile pictures. I thought it was adorable.

            But here’s the thing, while I believe those habits can be self-harming, 
I LIKE “shallow friendships”. 
Because I like PEOPLE. 
I am a cultural anthropology major, I have to like them, and all of their idiosyncrasies. 
And anyway, they are called acquaintances and it’s perfectly normal to have them. Since when do you have to be super deep friends with everyone you know? Or only talk to those people you ARE super deep with? Can't you even enjoy those people you hardly know, like the hotdog seller you talk to at 2 AM sometime?  

I don’t think quantity has to replace quality. 
I think you can have both.
(Also, this would be a funny profile pic, am I right? Ok, picture it cropped.) 

            Take today – I ran into an acquaintance from a class way back in sophomore year during an Alumni Dinner network thingie. We had been in a creative writing workshop class, so we had all gotten to know each other a little more than say, students in a chemistry class. We had chatted in class, were Facebook friends, but had never gone beyond that. But I was genuinely glad to see her (especially because those dinner things always have the potential to get real awkward real fast) and we had a great conversation reminiscing about class, swapping suggestions for gap year activities and yes, catching up on “shallow” details of our lives. We didn’t delve into some soul searching, but it wasn’t quite small talk. I know this because I hate small talk, but I enjoyed this conversation. Later that night she posted on my wall she was glad to run into me. Likewise, Creative Writing Girl, likewise.  

          And that, modern America/older generation/hipster-I-am-so-deep-and-above-getting-help-or-enjoyment-from-nearly-strangers, is how acquaintances can work, inside and outside of Facebook world. An enjoyable conversation, useful advice, and the security of knowing I could easily find her again and ask her about some of those gap year programs via Facebook. We may never become BFFS. And that’s ok.  (For the record, I also networked and now have the card of a Special Agent of Homeland Security. More on that. Yeah, DC!)

And this is me being a hipster-I-am-so-deep-and-above-getting-help-or-enjoyment-from-nearly-strangers

            Acquaintances are a problem when that is all you have. I have about three super best friends who I bare my soul and problems to. And my mom, who is in her own class altogether. I am “friends” with all of them on facebook  (yes, even my mom) and love sending them cute photos and being able to see their new haircuts when we all live across the country and often the world. Does our friendship rest on FB? No. Is it helped by it? Yes. Would it still be there without FB? Yes. Ok. I have passed the Ability to Maintain Real Relationships and Keep FB at A Moderate Level Test. Huzzah!

            And there are also those people who I haven’t spoken to in years who post awesome articles or hilarious statuses or beautiful photos. I value that connection to, in a totally different way. Maybe our entire set of interactions is merely “liking” each other’s stuff, but hey, we have the same sense of humor. And isn’t the entire interaction between most comedians and their audience the same thing? Except even more one-sided.

            Here’s what I think can make FB a fun, acquaintance-maintaining and, yes, friendship developing tool:
 1. Actually know each person you friend.
 2. Actually LIKE each person you friend. 

And now I will put on my granny panties and stare down my nose at those 12 year old little poops who don’t know a world without FB who are running around friending the guy who works at McDonalds only sometimes when he’s sober. You don’t have 700 friends, people tell me. No, I don’t. But I have 700 acquaintances. But YOU DON’T HAVE 1,352 ACQUAINTANCES, LITTLE POOP. YOU CAN’T EVEN DRIVE.

 Deleting those acquaintances you don’t genuinely like/feel socially responsible to connect with (ya know, best friends' little brother sort of thing) is fine – especially if they are bringing you up or down on your Comparison Ego Meter. (And ESPECIALLY if they can’t use grammar/Facebook rules of etiquette). But embrace the acquaintances, I say, you never know when they can help you out or make you laugh, and if you can do the same to them. Embrace them just for being living, breathing, interesting people that once sat near you in class and looked at cat photos the entire time.

Let’s all remember Facebook is a social tool, and since when has being “social” meant “only talking to people you are completely open and comfortable with and only about personal/profound things.” Heck, I get half my actual news from the articles my anarchist-Zionist-Occupier friend and my Conservative, suit-wearing, Anglican friend post, along with their witty commentary. (It's a great way to get both sides of a story!) Then I can quickly invite acquaintances to an event I’m hosting with Amazon Watch, message a classmate whose number I don’t know about homework, post on my extended family facebook page (yes, we have one), poll everyone on their reaction to the latest sexist advertisement, and practice some Spanish with the Peruvian guy who was probably a cousin of my host sister!  THAT is how you do Facebook. Call it shallow, call it quantity, call it whatever, but I LIKE it. Narcissism is bad, comparing yourself is bad, wasting  friendships on computer time is bad. But acquaintances are not bad, in real life or on the computer. (And neither is finally being able to spell acquaintance without spell check by the end of this blog post.)

     So a toast, to acquaintances! To the classmate you always thought was hilarious and wished you could get to know more! To that hottie with a surprising love of fantasy literature! To the one guy that posts awesome music! And yes, even to the kid who never posts anything original at all, but just seems like he is really nice. Long live acquaintance-ship!

1 comment:

  1. Agreed. And written in your witty and clever words, I can't not agree. Just let me get through grad school first...you failed to mention that Facebook is an irresistible temptation for the overly anxious procrastinator. There comes a point when studying and getting sleep should take priority over acquaintance interactions, but for some reason my brain can't process this when it's 11 pm and I still have a paper to write! But I will not blame Facebook for my own issues...or maybe I will. Don't judge me.