The average Facebook user has about 300 friends. That’s enough people to almost defend Thermopylae from the Persians—provided they are willing to fight. Therein lies the rub: Facebook friends may not be the friends of days past?
My best friends in the mid ‘70s were Robert, David, and Tony. We met at a daycare program where low income, mostly single, working parents could dump their kids before and after school. The absence of Internet made children in the 1970s prone to all sorts of mischief—things got damaged and people hurt when they were left to their own devices. So for six years between 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM we four Musketeers attended class, played on the same teams, and hung out. We were inseparable brothers.
Those early relationships set a foundation for what friendship meant. While home might be in turmoil, we brothers could tease one another about our crushes, laugh at our jokes, share answers in class, stand together in the school yard, and fight—sometimes each other. Our friendships were tested and grew stronger. But it didn’t last.
Middle school and miles presented an unbridgeable chasm in a sprawling Los Angeles County. Single, working, 1970s parents didn’t schedule play dates and pre-pubescent social hours. The financially challenged Baby Boomers charged with raising children worked long hours at multiple jobs hoping for a break. They balanced selfish self-righteousness with family obligations, moving from flat to flat, overwhelmed by the responsibilities of parenthood. Without geographical proximity, early friendships were destined to wane—which is perhaps what should happen.
Facebook provides a tool for people to remain connected long after common interests fade. We share moments and ideas with our second grade crush, our eighth grade teacher, and coworkers from jobs we despised. The kids we hated in high school “like” our travel photos. Brief encounters with long lost buddies and family at reunions and holidays are supplemented with daily interactions among people separated by geographic, political, and religious differences. The constant familiarity violates the natural relationship order.
The problem isn’t Facebook, it’s the users. People who grew up with the platform recognize the 300 friends for what they are—mostly acquaintances. But the rest of the population, the majority of Facebook users, misunderstand the nature of their FB relationships. They think a “friend” is a friend. This became shockingly clear during the last election when users en masse realized their “friends” were not the companions of yesteryear. Differing views resulted in the wholesale dumping of FB friends by those faced with the reality that friendship means more than a singular shared experience or a briefly commingled past.
The savvy Facebook friend collector understands the platform is means of communicating uncontroversial information with large numbers of acquaintances. They limit their sharing to holiday photos and birthday wishes, preferring to avoid the types of details that challenge friendships—friendships destined to fail when tested. They don’t read the emotionally charged posts, or if they do, they don’t comment because, well, why bother? It’s not like these are friends.
Facebook disrupts the natural order of relationships. Robert, Tony and David were eventually replaced with Shelly, Jaime, Kevin and Dave, who were later replaced with Keith, Mike, Jason, Brandi, Ali, Rich, Paul, Patrick, Jessica, and my best friend, Jeannette. Over the years the lack of technology and conflicting priorities resulted in more lost relationships as some people dropped into the past and new friendships grew from the decomposing detritus of relationships long dead. It’s the circle of friendship life—and it’s stymied by Facebook.
I look at my Facebook profile and realize most of those who mistakenly allowed me access to their feed are in one form or another family. There are 12 relatives either by marriage or blood, five sisters and brothers from other mothers, a handful of people whose company I enjoy but who likely prefer me in small doses, four others who will end up on the ‘unfriend’ pile during the next purge, and my brother—who has three FB profiles. Not even enough to fill a football roster—but I’ve always preferred quality over quantity.
I don’t know if David, Tony, Robert and I would still be friends if Facebook were around when we were kids—but I doubt it. I know the friends on my FB page are good people—caring, intelligent, funny, generous souls willing to put up with the sarcastic, slightly cynical, self-deprecating musings of a rough-edged buddy, ally, son, partner, and companion. There may not be enough of us to defend Thermopylae from the Persians, but I’m sure we would slaughter our fair share of aggressors while hoisting quality brews and laughing our way to the grave. They are the fewer friends.
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I am in the photo in this article. As such, I did not take it. Anyone able to identify me, David, Tony, or Robert in said photo wins an all expenses paid trip—expenses paid by the winner—to their kitchen where they may choose from any number of tasty, hoppy, carbonated beverages. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is true. Copyright can be found here for my original work.