Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The dynamics of friendship in the Facebook Age

Say you are throwing a party to mark an important life milestone and, of course, you want to celebrate with your family and friends.  How many of your Facebook (or Twitter, or MySpace) friends would be on your guest list?  Do your 'nearest and dearest' actually number several hundreds?  Of course, some people use social networking sites for business purposes and their friend list may include clients, co-workers and other associates.  Also, by it's very definition social networking lets us expand our circle of friends.  However, with security being a serious concern among most internet users, most Facebookers are not accepting cold requests. So, how many friends are actually on your Facebook friends list?

Thousands of elementary school and high school classmates, neighborhood playmates, and former co-workers have reconnected on Facebook, essentially countering some of the natural evolution that occurs in associations when people change schools or jobs, or move. I'm not sure that is necessarily a good thing.  The natural evolution of some things, is sometimes a good thing. After all, isn't there often a very good reason we don't maintain some connections?

Facebook has created for some people, myself included, an awkward interaction with people we barely knew, vaguely remember, and sometimes did not like.  I have accepted more than one friend request while still trying to figure out who had sent it.  Social networking has redefined the parameters of friendship. Our friends lists include gym mates, a friend's ex-girlfriend, distant relatives, and our Starbucks barista; making it necessary to manuever through ever-changing privacy settings to sort everyone into groups.

Having open conversations, making status updates and posting pictures in a medium open to people I have not spoken to in years - if ever - feels like living in a house with people I don't speak to. Yet, declining friend requests or 'unfriending' people makes me uncomfortable - much like a high school girl who wants to be cool with everybody.  Truthfully, thanks to Facebook, I have made new friends of old acquaintances and that has been great.  On the other hand, I have often been made to wonder why some people sent me a friend request since they never try to communicate further.

It used to be that friends were people you wanted to spend time with; people you knew well, and who knew you well; people you could call for bail money or to just cry with you; people your mother could call if she couldn't reach you; people you spoke openly and honestly to; people you invited to your house and did not tidy up for; people who knew your children's names and ages. Online social networking has certainly changed that. Now a friend can be someone who you don't even want seeing your contact information.

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