How Facebook is controlling your relationships
It was a new year and a new decade, and no better time to have a Facebook cull. I happily clicked that nice little X next to the names of all those random schoolfriends I’ve exchanged exactly one wall post with, a few people I no longer have to have as ‘friends’ now I’ve changed jobs, as well as a fair few randoms I’ve picked up along the way in my four years on the site.
Pulling up my list of friends, I noticed that a couple of people had culled me as well. Not that this was a big shock, but the act of ‘de-friending’ someone on Facebook is a pretty hefty statement — akin to taking out an ad saying: ‘I don’t actually like you that much’.
So what happens when I run into my cullers or cullees? Take Facebook out of the equation and there wouldn’t be a problem. It would be smiles, a quick ‘hi, how are you?’ and then we’d both be on our way.
Now I have visions of us eyeing each other suspiciously over our drinks from opposite ends of whatever bar we’re in, mentally sticking pins into a mind-effigy as we laugh and joke with others, trying to act like our egos aren’t bruised in the slightest.
So is this a good or bad thing? Is the obligation to publicly list the people you value making others realise what you think of them? Is it helping people to be more honest, or do we need an element of delusion and smokescreen in our lives to make the world spin with a bit less tension?
And when you see people you’ve sent messages to interacting with others, it certainly adds another dimension of paranoia to the usual ‘why haven’t they called/texted/emailed’ situation.
A study by an Oxford professor showed that people can generally only handle up to about 150 relationships at a time. So what does that mean to me, with over 400 Facebook friends?
I believe relationships are fluid — ebbing and flowing. Sometimes you see someone a lot, then they fall by the wayside temporarily as life and other stuff gets in the way.
Apart from a quick call on Christmas Day, I haven’t spoken to my friend Anna properly in a year. Yet I know exactly what she’s up to by her status updates, photo postings and wall conversations with mutual friends. And I know if I turned up on her doorstep tomorrow, she’d invite me in and we’d be chatting as if we’d only seen each other a week ago.
And Facebook has sent me back some great schoolfriends I lost contact with through fear of having to tell them I was gay. My best friend Ian and I got back in touch in 2007 and still speak regularly on the phone. In fact we spent a laughter-filled day together yesterday, swapping stories of work, family and catastrophic love lives.
People don’t have to be in your immediate life to be in your heart. My schoolfriend Jane passed away last year from a long battle with cancer. She was a month past her 30th birthday. We chatted often on Facebook, yet hadn’t seen each other in sixteen years.
If it weren’t for Facebook I’d never have known about her life, her beautiful daughter Lily, and happy marriage. I would never have got the chance to go to her funeral and say goodbye, and I’d never have met up with other friends there who had also slipped out of my life all those years ago.
I still talk to Jane. Her family haven’t deleted her profile, so I still write on her wall when I think of her. I like to think she’s up there, smiling the way she always did as she watches me careen through life like a pinball in an arcade game. Perhaps this is the new way in which we keep people alive — the 21st century method of talking to a gravestone.
However you use social media, whether you’re a ‘friend whore’ or like to keep your virtual circle to a minimum, remember this the next time you write on a friend’s wall or ping them a message on Twitter: In a world where we have hundreds of methods of instant communication, there’s no substitute for picking up the phone and arranging a real live catch up.
And no matter how many ‘friends’ you may have — in your online world or your physical one — never forget who your true friends are.
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