Why I am such a promiscuous Facebook friender

Facebook-Zuckerberg-004All through college and much of my early professional life, my rule for friending people on Facebook used to be that I'd only Facebook friend someone after I'd met them three times and that at least one of those occasions must've included the consumption of some kind of food or flavored beverage. It was a good rule. A solid rule. A rule designed to prevent me from Facebook friending frivolously while also ensuring that I didn't provide too high a bar to the Facebook friendship.

However, sometime in the last few years, I completely dropped this rule. Now I am an extremely frivolous Facebook friender. I friend people after meeting them once. Sometimes I friend people after speaking to them for just five minutes. On occasion, I friend people I've never met, if they're writers whose work I've enjoyed or whose online presence I appreciate.

I'm sure some people find this off-putting, but I just think, well...you never know, right? Maybe you never see that person again and in five years you have no idea who they are. But, on the other hand, maybe you don't see them for five years, but they comment on your wall and you comment on their wall and five years from now, you're both in the same city and you become best friends. You don't know. Anything could happen. The cost of being Facebook friends with someone is extremely small*, but the potential benefit is huge.

My Facebook promiscuity is all part of my (relatively new) policy of not trying to plan my future too much. It's way too much work to decide "Oh, I like this person and think they're Facebook-friend worthy" or "Oh, this other person is a fleeting contact who is not worthy of a Facebook friendship." Instead, I'd prefer to establish this extremely weak, tenuous linkage with lots of people and just see what happens! Sometimes the results can be wonderful and surprising.

I am a huge believer in the power of acquaintanceship. It's fun to have people who you only see once every six months or once a year or once every two years. People with whom you can get together and talk about that one video game you both like or that one person you both hate or that one awesome party. I think that too many people are way too focused on making very deep, lifelong relationships.

But you can't just have those relationships. Weak friendships turn into strong friendships and strong friendships turn into weak friendships. If you just dump all your weak ties, then you'll find, eventually, that attrition will leave you with fewer and fewer good friends.

Of course, there are also a number of sound reasons to not use Facebook this way. Some people put stuff on Facebook that involves their kids and families and travels and might have security concerns about giving that information to a bearded 6' 7" stranger with tired, sunken eyes (and an insatiable hunger for human flesh). Other people might just have less bandwidth to deal with other peoples' lives and might not want to see all my (hilarious) musings on _Orange Is The New Black._ That's totally fine. Some small but not-insignificant portion of my friend requests are ignored or rejected, and I don't take it at all personally. People have to use Facebook in the way that feels most natural to them.

*Some people seem to get super annoyed by the type and/or frequency of other peoples' Facebook posting. That never happens to me. I've never thought of myself as an easy-going person, but my Facebook wall almost never causes me any kind of aggravation.

Facebook is the best, and I will never leave it, not even when it becomes something super uncool that’s only used by sixty year old Millennials

i-hate-facebookEveryone knows that people sometimes like to go on Facebook vacations, and deactivate their accounts, but I don’t think many people realize the sheer number of folks who do this.

The only reason I realize the extent of this behavior is that ages ago I installed an app on my browser that let me see who had unfriended me on Facebook. Now, that’s a really embarrassing thing to admit and I certainly wouldn’t mention it if this was still something I was doing. Rest assured, I no longer have such an app. You are free to unfriend me in peaceful anonymity.

But this app also allowed me to see account deactivations (and reactivations), and it was kind of startling. In any given week, ten or fifteen people would deactivate their accounts. Most of them came back surprisingly soon—often within less than a month. Some deactivated and reactivated their accounts three or more times in a six month period.

This behavior was so widespread that it made me realize the extent of our ambivalence with Facebook (and, I suppose, other social networks—although I don’t think those really matter). I’m not sure what’s at the base of it. I think, at least amongst my peers, maybe it’s mostly a question of status anxiety? Facebook makes it very easy to see when other people are doing better than you.

That’s a bit odd, though, because I am the king of status anxiety, and I find that Facebook rarely affects me this way. I think, though, that might be because I mostly tend to envy other writers, and my locus of status anxiety is this online writing forum I belong to, Codex, in which hundreds of SF writers who are at around my level of professional development gather today and, frequently, discuss their professional successes.

Leaving Facebook is also, to some extent, just the cool thing to do. “I’m not on Facebook” is the new “I don’t have own a TV.”*

I enjoy Facebook a lot, and my enjoyment of it has only deepened over time. I think it does exactly what it says it is supposed to do: it provides a sense of connectedness. I’m out here in Baltimore, far away from all my peoples, but I still get to see what they’re up to and dip into their lives.

And it’s also a good place for fostering weak connections. I’m not sure that Facebook interaction is ever going to make me someone’s best friend, but not all relationships need to be deep and intensely-felt. It’s very pleasant to have a broad network of acquaintances. When you know a fair number of people, it feels like you have some kind of place in the world.

As an activity, Facebooking is also somewhat pleasurable. It has its own set of minor joys. It’s fun to make a point on someone’s wall or share something interesting or like a funny picture. All of this stuff is just so great. It’s not the kind of thing you can build a life upon, but it’s a wonderful way to spend about 30-45 minutes a day.

I found that my enjoyment of Facebook (and Twitter) increased tremendously when it became less passive. For maybe eight years, I mostly posted my own status updates and browsed my News Feed (and whatever came before your news feed) and didn’t make any comments. But for the last year or so, I’ve made a conscious effort to get out there and try to write things, whenever I have something to say. (Yes, I am the kind of person who makes personal goals re: his Facebook usage.) And once I started interacting with people a little bit more, I found that people interacted much more with me. And since then everything has been wonderful: doves sometimes descend from the sky and land on my shoulders.

*I’m so glad that the advent of Netflix and Hulu killed off “I don’t own a TV.” I guess you could still say, “I don’t watch television shows” but that just sounds trivial, like…err…so what? Not owning a TV is about not doing the thing that is expected of you; not watching TV is just about how you choose to spend your time. I don’t go to sports games, but you don’t hear me bragging about it.