An Illustration of a brown haired chubby girl with rosy cheeks and a thought bubble that says "fuuu..." The f is illustrated like facebook's logo font.

Friendship in the social age

I think a lot of people confuse networking for friendship in this age. It could have started with Myspace (a moment of silence please!) and the golden era of fifty billion “friends” but more and more it seems like lots of people favour a bajillion acquaintances in preference to a handful of buddies.

Recently I had to think about how I networked, finding that my IRL was colliding violently with my URL. I found myself meeting so many great, fun, smart and talented people at events that I thought I should consider adding as “friends” on Facebook. So I welcomed everyone warmly to my Facebook, a place I used to use to catch up with friends close and old. All of a sudden a nice place to catch up became really noisy with all the Mafia Wars and the Farmvilles and the constant stream of fascinating and not so fascinating minutia of people’s lives. Other people I knew started to feel this social media overcrowding too, and decided to pare back their “friends” (sometimes including me) and I respected it but I still felt like I was going to miss out on things if I pruned my “friends”. I worried that I was going to hurt people’s feelings too. And of course, deciding to unfriend a bunch of people and seeing the number of digital “friends” winding back does take a little toll on the ego. I’d be kidding if I didn’t mention it!

An Illustration of a brown haired chubby girl with rosy cheeks and a thought bubble that says "fuuu..." The f is illustrated like Facebook's logo font.

When I started to miss out on updates from family members and the handful of people I consider my close friends… I knew something had to give. I tried removing people from my default news feed, hiding those noisy social games and having a holiday. It was silly though – a place I’d actually “stocked” with people had become too crowded for me and I was the one taking a break? That’s not right! So I decided to remove about 200 “friends”. Most probably didn’t even notice, some probably would have thought “aww that noisy fat lady removed me, bummer” but others did get upset. It’s hard to do what’s best for you when other people feel hurt, it really is. It’s one of the greatest guilt-driven motivators in this world but if I’m to be true to myself, and a connected daughter, sister, niece and friend there are situations where I’m going to have to be that bitch.

A couple of months on, I’m no longer afraid of Facebook and I feel much more confident about asserting my social needs too. There are lots of other social media platforms where thousands of people follow me and prop up my ego (thanks for that!) but what made Facebook so unique and stressful was the reciprocal following concept. On other social media sites I only follow people I know or whose content interests me – if I followed every person following me on Tumblr and Twitter I would probably be so overwhelmed I’d have to take an extended vacation from the internet. I’ve only got a finite amount of time and focus! A reciprocal add on a social media platform means you’re subscribing to all the things a person is interested in and chooses to publish in their feed: their politics, their friends and the daily, sometimes hourly details of their life. People are deeply fascinating, complex and layered. As an introverted human being I can handle this on a small scale but as soon as that number hits 200, 300, 400… I need to find a quieter space.

introverts

From lafinparfaite on flickr

To have a friend is one of the best things I can imagine. I rely on my friends for laughter, camaraderie, inspiration, discussion and support. Knowing the person I am, I can’t actually reciprocate those things if I’m stretched to accommodate hundreds of friends and for me, the decision to pare back was made out of respect for the people I am closest to. Including me. We’re taught and encouraged that one friend is great but more friends is better, but it’s a pretty damaging approach for people who aren’t naturally extroverted.

So what’s your approach to Facebook, or Tumblr, or Linked In, or Twitter, or or… every other social networking platform? Do you have different rules for different platforms like I do? Have you ever felt bad about limiting your network for the sake of maintaining a more intimate network (and your sanity!)?

14 comments

  1. I'm exactly the same! I keep mine well under 200 but I do have a separate facebook page for my blog so people can follow that rather than my personal one filled with my IRL friends and family. I hate clutter and facebook can become that way without a bit of maintenance.

  2. Yes, that's precisely my approach. Sometimes I feel a bit weird and rude deflecting people and redirecting them to my page but otherwise I get all clogged up!

  3. I limit who I add on Facebook, as I do find it difficult to pare the list back. I also block applications and utilise filters heavily (hey, sounds like LiveJournal!).

    I'm actually at the point now where I don't feel too bad about messaging someone back who's requested to 'friend' me, and saying, “Hey, I keep personal stuff on here, and I don't really feel like I know you well enough to add you.” People are usually cool with it – and if they're not, I don't tend to have a lot of time for them anyway.

  4. I've only just joined twitter but am finding it a bit much – maybe it's just the ppl I'm following but the same thing retweeted over and over plus it's awfully spammy. I was going to cancel my fb altogether but my Japanese school uses it to send msgs etc so have only kept it going for that reason.

  5. i too have too many “friends” and have resorted to hiding some peoples' feeds… this allows only my true friends through on a regular basis & i can still go visit the hidden friends' walls, when i feel like learning what they had for lunch, etc….you could also set up a second account w/ maybe your first initial, middle name, last name for just family and true friends…good luck

  6. I don't think it's the action of a “bitch” to pare back your social network. Privacy is the new black and wanting to have thousands of “friends” who aren't actually your friends is the hallmark of the insecure.

    Have an amount you can deal with and fuck the rest. If they get offended, then they wanted to get offended…and you don't need “friends” like that.

  7. I crave interaction on my social networking sites – lj, fb etc. My facebook has my name, so people can find my quite easily, and I tend to friend them, and then just get sick of the games etc and the people who don't care about my life, and to be honest I don't really care about them, and so I pare it back. And I feel bad. And I ummm and ahhh about who is important. I figure if I need to ummm and ahh then they should stay there, until the time when I don't even need to consider.

    I admit, it can hurt when you get culled. Especially when you feel like you had a connection to that person, and didn't see it coming. For me this is more related to online friends, more than those that I see. I dislike the argument that it is just the internet, because people still invest themselves in these online relationships. And I bet some of my online friends know more about me than ones I see face to face. But ultimately, I understand where they are coming from, might ask them if everything is, and deal with it.Like you do when real life friends move and don't tell you. Heh. personal experience much?

  8. Facebook is for friends and family. Some are more distant than others – I have some high school buds I haven't spoken to in years and people I met while traveling. I have very very few URL friends on my facebook.

    In real life I have a small group of people I go out of my way to see and facebook seems to be where the last thread of friendship can reside. Once they're off my friends list, I'm unlikely to ever catch up with them again. I do a cull every few months to remove those I no longer need/want. I try to keep my list on or less than 100.

    I follow about 120 people/companies/things on twitter and even that feels overwhelming sometimes. I get chewed out if I use the internet too often at work and I don't have an internet phone, and once I've missed a few hours on twitter I'm completely out of the loop. If people constantly fill my feed with crap I delete them.

  9. Facebook is for friends and family. Some are more distant than others – I have some high school buds I haven't spoken to in years and people I met while traveling. I have very very few URL friends on my facebook.

    In real life I have a small group of people I go out of my way to see and facebook seems to be where the last thread of friendship can reside. Once they're off my friends list, I'm unlikely to ever catch up with them again. I do a cull every few months to remove those I no longer need/want. I try to keep my list on or less than 100.

    I follow about 120 people/companies/things on twitter and even that feels overwhelming sometimes. I get chewed out if I use the internet too often at work and I don't have an internet phone, and once I've missed a few hours on twitter I'm completely out of the loop. If people constantly fill my feed with crap I delete them.

  10. Reading the “How to care for Introverts” excerpt reminds me a lot of the good ole' Meyers-Briggs test that identifies a little bit about how our personality works. We just did this in my office and it reminded me that sometimes your feelings of being overwhelmed by social network stimulation are not merely a product of your introversion. One of the four descriptions in the test is whether we are a thinker or feeler. I, as a fellow feeler (I am assuming you are one as well), takes everyone's emotions into consideration when making a decision to try and have a harmonious vibe between all involved. This can cause issues when you are trying to do what is best for you though, so I know how you feel….

    ….all of that to say that we should do what is best for us. In my life, living by the friends and family rule has kept social networking enjoyable, especially with the addition of the HIDE button. :)

  11. The last few months have seen me want to pull back from social media, even as I grow a new site with which I'm hoping to reach scads of people. I haven't liked Facebook in about five years, but I maintain it because it's the primary way I can keep up with my mom and brother now that I've moved to a different country. I killed my MySpace and my Livejournal (two moments of silence observed) to try to cut down the chatter, which has helped some. But I still feel the nagging guilt that comes with Twitter, my personal blog, and (sometimes) Facebook. My need to unplug and get real is getting overwhelming.

    [That “How to Care for Introverts” image made me smile and feel pretty good. INFJ FTW.]

  12. Oh, also, I found the best way for me to deal with FB spam is to permanently block all applications and to change my email settings to minimal levels. Sanity (partially) restored!

  13. This is why I really don't like when Facebook or Twitter says “XYZ is no longer your friend”. No, they're just not connected to me on those websites, but that doesn't mean we can't still be friends! The term's really been devalued, and drama has happened between people who take the term “friend” on a site like Facebook very seriously and people like me who use FB/TW/et al as kind of an extended address book of interesting people.

    Friendships are super important, but the flippant way social media treats th relationship really isn't helping.

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