Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Facebook Friends

Dear Reader,

I joined Facebook.com about two years ago because a friend from high school wanted her profile to show how she had a friend from my university. So I joined, more for her benefit than for anything else, figuring that it was important to her and not that much of an inconvenience to me. Now my life will never be the same.

Nothing really changed at first. I checked my profile every month or so, and was pleased with my one official Facebook friend and my lack of publicly displayed personal information. But when Facebook started picking up and I realized that it was becoming a major trend among those around me, I decided to use my profile to help satisfy my constant and inherent need to expose the inner parts of my soul to my fellow human beings. And as I started editing that, I noticed that being Facebook friends with people meant that I had special access to my friends' pictures, thoughts, and activities like I never had before. I also found that it gave me a sense of being connected with people, which is really nice considering the transient environment I live in and the way the people are always floating in and out of my life. So I started getting really into the trend that was sweeping the college world, and following the policy I have on following trends*, I enjoyed every minute of it.

But despite all of the joys that Facebook can bring, there seems to be an inherent flaw in the design: it puts a quantitative quality on friendship. One of the first things you see on a Facebook profile is the number of people that have officially networked with the profile of owner, and by the way it's worded ("Cecily has 5 friends," etc.) it kind of sounds like a friendship isn't really official or even real until Facebook knows about it. And who wants the world to know that he or she only has 5 real friends? So naturally, I wanted to officially register as many friendships as I could, and it's kind of turned into an obsession. Sometimes I have secret competitions with a friend or two, attempting to have more friends than they do at any given time. I never tell them about the competition in order to keep my advantage. Through my efforts I've managed to amass a sizable amount of people who are willing to publicly admit that they know me.

And yet, after everything that Facebook is and claims to be, there is still an undeniable emptiness as I sit at a computer and check up on my friends electronically. Facebook is just one member of a long line of technological developments made with the intent of keeping people in touch (a line that includes everything from telephones to instant messaging), and yet it seems to me that none of them can hold a candle to the kind of human interaction that you get from old-fashioned things like sitting in the living room or eating at the table. Ironically enough, it is perhaps the present preoccupation of things like phones and Facebook that make face-to-face friendships suddenly so unmanageable. Or maybe technology made for communication is simply trying to compensate for the technology that keeps people apart. It makes me wonder if our ancestors who lived in huts and villages managed to have a precious something that the modern world can't quite grasp. I guess it's impossible to tell, but somehow people still find friends and fall in love and fight for each other whether they're on Facebook or not. Perhaps there's still some hope.

Regards, best wishes, and friendship,

-Cecily Jane

* So here's my trend-following policy: I will go along with the crowd when and if I feel like the crowd has a good thing going for it. Basically, I'm not afraid of being in the minority or the majority; I just do what I think is best.

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