Facebook: A Whole New Way to be Rejected

I signed up for a facebook account last week, and was thrust back into a pre-adolescent fit of self-doubt, worrying whether any of my real life friends would want to admit in the public of cyberspace to being friends with me. During the half-hour or so in which I was setting up my account and exploring the site, I noticed that facebook was telling me "you have no friends." WHAT? You just had me import several dozen people from my e-mail address book into my "friends" list.

But, oh, those people aren't my friends on facebook until they confirm that they are my friends. Facebook friends are only by common consent. Which is a nice privacy protection, but still ... You didn't tell me that you were going to EMAIL all of these people and ask them if they want me as a friend! What if they don't? What if they are annoyed to be bothered by my needy begging for friendship?

Okay, yes, I'm being paranoid here.

When I was very little, I read, or was read, various stories about how to make friends, in which making friends with someone was portrayed as a very straight-forward task: you go up to someone (I don't remember them discussing criteria for selecting the someones) and ask "will you be my friend?" If they say yes, voila, you have a friend!

I never actually did that. I had friends anyway. It took me a while to figure out that the friend-making process was generally more organic than the picture books described. (No, "organic" was not the word my ten-year-old mind used to describe the process.) Then, just about the time I seemed to be getting a grip on how friendship worked, junior high came along, and all bets were off.

Facebook is a return to the binary image of friendship from those kids books: you either are a friend, or you're not, and you can pinpoint the moment of the creation of the friendship down to the minute.

Actually, it looks like you can restrict the access of some of your "friends" to some of the information on your profile, so perhaps not all facebook friends are created equal. Still, I find it interesting that the only degree of social connection in the facebook universe is "friend." Even as someone who is very liberal with the word "friend" (if I tell you a story about a "friend" of mine, "friend" might well mean "a person with whom I once had a five-minute conversation" or "a person whose blog I regularly read"), I find the word inadequate to describe my social universe.

There are a lot of people I would more readily classify as "acquaintances," "colleagues," etc., etc. I wouldn't say they're not my friends (with one or two notable exceptions), but calling all my friends friends seems to squish the complexity of relationships into one dimension. Then again, allowing a diversity of labels for social connections on a social networking site would open a whole new can of worms that's probably better left closed. So we make do with the limitations of the system.


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