Facebook Friend: An Oxymoron?
January 25th, 2010

Today’s post is the third installment in my four-part series on friendship  For the first two posts, click here and here.

Last summer, after many months of reluctance, and mostly out of morbid curiosity, I joined Facebook.

I don’t know what I was looking for or what I expected to find.  But I joined.  And for the most part I haven’t regretted it.  I have gotten back in touch with people from my past.  And I have stayed up to date on current real world friends whom I don’t necessarily talk with every day.

But since joining I have been perplexed with the concept of the “Facebook friend.”  I imagine most of you know what I’m talking about.  When you label someone with the surprisingly pejorative “we’re Facebook friends,” it diminishes the relationship instantly.  It’s understood by anyone familiar with the site that Facebook friendship isn’t real friendship. 

Yes, many of us have Facebook friends with whom we are also real world friends.  But we don’t refer to those people as FB friends; we just call them our friends.  No, the “Facebook friend” is a different animal altogether.  “Facebook friends” means “I’ve met this person in real life at least once and I didn’t find them objectionable enough to proactively exclude them from the banalities that show up on my FB page.”  Hardly a ringing endorsement. 

So, if FB friendship is so contradictory, why do we bother?  What value does FB bring to our lives that wasn’t there already?  And what are the criteria by which we select our Facebook friends? 

As an example, here is a list of people who are my FB friends:

  1. My sister
  2. My son’s godparents
  3. Some friends from childhood whom I haven’t seen in ages but still genuinely care about
  4. Little brothers of friends from childhood with whom I wasn’t really friends back then either
  5. Former coworkers (only a few… I’m choosy)

And here’s a list of people who are not my FB friends:

  1. My parents (they’re not on FB)
  2. My husband (he won’t accept my friend request and thinks it’s hilarious…)
  3. Our nanny
  4. My in-laws
  5. Any current coworkers (I have to keep some boundaries)

So clearly, there is no correlation between FB friendship status and real world importance in my life.  Zero.  Zip.  Nil. 

But yet, I joined.  And I log in.  Daily.  I don’t post all that much (confession: I’m a bit of a FB lurker…) but I enjoy knowing what’s going on in the lives of my “friends.”  And, honestly, Facebook is about the only means by which I could stay updated on such a broad swath of people at the same time.

To wit, through FB I have reconnected with a dear childhood friend.  I knew when her daughter dislocated her elbow and saw pictures when she turned two.  I had a good friend in college and we lost touch ten years ago when he graduated.  But he and his wife just adopted the most darling little boy and I have quietly stayed abreast of the process via the updates and photos he posted on FB.  Without FB I’d never have been privy to these events, and I was quite happy that I was.  So I will concede… there is value in Facebook.

But how much?

Well, that depends on how you use it.  I’ve come to realize that there is a “wheat from the chaff” process that FB requires.  If your threshold for “friendship” is low you’ll be inundated with a barrage of updates on people and events that don’t matter to you.  But! If you are more selective in your “friendship” habits, Facebook can become a valuable method of staying connected to the people in your life who genuinely matter to you, but whose paths don’t cross yours on a regular basis.

It’s this latter path that I’ve tried to take.  I admit that sometimes it’s hard not to lower the proverbial bar.  Sometimes that morbid curiosity takes hold and I’m tempted to accept a friend request merely to satisfy it.  (And sometimes I do cave…)  But for the most part I have been selective in my Facebook choices and am glad of it. 

So, for me, Facebook serves the role of a relationship butler of sorts.  I tell him who I want to hear from versus who doesn’t make the cut.  And he delivers sometimes charming, sometimes witty, sometimes juicy, sometimes informational, and sometimes fantastically boring (they can’t all be winners…) updates and photos about these people right to my virtual front door.  When I’m particularly struck by such an update I can reach out with a more personal communication.  And the rest of the time I can quickly ingest the information, resting assured that all my cyber-buddies are in good shape, and get on with my day.  And that isn’t such a bad deal after all.

9 Responses to “Facebook Friend: An Oxymoron?”

  1. J.B. Says:

    I’m one of those curmudgeons who doesn’t Facebook or Twitter. I have a cell phone, to which I’m addicted, and have been known to text. However, I really enjoy writing letters. In ink. With a fountain pen. (not quill) My question, not just to Gale, but to the rest of you in the 21st century is: what does it gain for you that you can’t get in a slower, more elegant way? People used to stay in touch with their friends and family before instant electronics came along. IMHO (!) staring at screens makes a person crazier than they really should be. It really has an effect on the brain. The screen pulses, for pete’s sake!!! Letters, telephone conversations, PERSONAL VISITS don’t do that to you. Besides, the Unibomber and I don’t believe technology is all that wonderful anyway. (So why am I on-line? Good question.)

  2. Mimi Says:

    Hello Gale.
    I liked this blog as well. (I have enjoyed all of them.) I was also on the fence of joining Facebook. Finally I decided to join, and also rekindled some friendships that I had in the past. It has been nice to catch up with them, but I do not necessarily want to meet for cocktails on Friday night, or travel to see them. I don’t say that to mean, but I am happy with just the occassional note to one another. I also thought that it would be a great way to advertise my business to all of my “long lost pals”. I do anjoy FB, I do not go looking for people and I do not post what I am doing hour to hour on my page. Which brings me to my beef of FB. There is a lack of proper etiquette! For example, I do not care that you are going to drinks in whatever neighborhood of whatever city you live in, or that you are excited that it is your vacation in 2 days. I also think that you have feelings on certain things, lets talk about them, not via FB. Don’t even get me started on sending a cocktail, an egg at Easter, or an ornament at Christmas, or any of the little things you can send. What the hell is that? I just think that part is a little ridiculous. I don’t think that I am alone on that one. ?? It leads me to believe that the people who do this have too much time on their hands. Is there not something more constructive to do with FB? I love seeing all of my friends, kids pics, it amazing to see how they have grown, what they are up to, etc. But lets keep a grip on it. I do not mean to sound bitter or like a FB hater, because it is a great tool. I just think some need to utilize it more wisely.
    My last comment/question is Gale, will you be my BFF on FB? :)

  3. Anne Says:

    Yes, facebook is an odd animal. So many benefits…and some drawbacks as well. Sometimes I think it’s strange–the way we keep up with people this way. If I never cared enough to pick up the phone and call someone to ask how they’re doing, why should I be privy to their personal details online? But…we are privy. And yes, it’s nice.

  4. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    I am a big Facebook fan. I think there is something amazing about the fact that it allows us to stay connected to such a broad array of people from our past and present. That said, I do not spend a ton of time on Facebook. I do not let it suck hours from my day. I do not nurture Facebook friendships at the expense of real ones. I dabble. I comment here and there. I delight in seeing the faces from my past and the new faces (babies) in their present. I am thankful for this tool that in a few clicks transcends geographical and interpersonal barriers.

    Of course there is a more sinister side to Facebook and its brethren tools of technology. Of course. There are important questions about privacy and personhood, about real and ideal, about the sanctity and integrity of personal information.

    There are two sides to everything. Oddly, I am opting to see the bright side these days…

  5. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    When I joined FB 1 1/2 years ago, I was pretty active and really liked it. The initial “blush” has faded for me, but it did connect me with some great women from my past, and I now communicate with them often. So for me, it’s all worth it.

  6. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    I am not on Facebook. I have resisted and resisted and then, for no real reason, I signed up last week and was instantly overwhelmed by the number of “suggested friends” from my past that I deactivated my account right away. There’s still part of me that values the organic nature of friendships – the way they are born, grow, change, and, sometimes, die. I don’t know if I’m ready to mess with the natural flow of things – even though I’m sure I would enjoy getting back in touch with some friends from the past, and maybe give those relationships some CPR.

    By the way, I love your definition of Facebook Friend. Classic!

  7. crnnoel Says:

    Totally agree with what you’ve posted. I have a love/hate relationship with FB. My mother in law is now a FB friend, as well as a slew of my husbands relatives (he refuses to join FB, so now I’m the FB “contact” for our family…) and I use it totally differently than I did when I first had it and it was more for friends. Now? Minimal use at best :)

    (thanks for commenting on yesterdays post! You are so right, finding God should be so much simpler than it is…)

  8. Sarah Says:

    This is great. FB is a phenomenon. I have actually unfriended people who’ve irked me or, after a bit of self-reflection, I’ve realized I had only friended them out of that same morbid curiosity you speak of. It seems I go through spurts with FB though. Some weeks and months I can revel in the benign and hop on daily. Other weeks and months it bothers me, bothers me and just nothing about it feels real. It can be used as a great tool and a great distraction both. But just the other night, as I was gazing photos from an old high school friend, I felt like a dirty voyeur or something. Granted, this is a woman I cared deeply for when we were younger, and still care for deeply, but we haven’t spoken in years, so how much information should we really share with one another? Alas, I am a transparent person for the most part so it doesn’t bother me to share my photos and my words, but I wonder about others. And I wonder about the thoughts in my own head as I’m viewing pictures of classmates all grown up, with children of their own. So many thoughts…

  9. Emily Says:

    My latest thought on Facebook — and I am an avid user of it — is that I now have a deeper level of intimacy with my FB friends than I do with my non-FB friends. By intimacy, I don’t mean that these are the people I trust and count on the most — but these are the people I know the most about. So for instance, I know more about what some chick I went to high school with did this week than my own sister. It’s bizarre. But as I have said — FB has enriched my life in countless ways without giving up very much on what was already there. I’m a fan.

    PS — Doing some MoB maintenance and happily added TDT to our blog roll — great read!