Friends and “friends”.

Earlier this week, The Guardian ran a think-piece entitled “Friendship, Facebook-style. Are social networking sites promoting devalued, impermanent relationships?” It reminded me of similar observations which I made (while in the grip of an uncommonly sour, grumpy mood, and rather too long-windedly, as was my habit) on my old blog, nearly four years ago.

(If pressed for time, and aren’t we all these days, skip to the third section, just below the second horizontal rule. The rest is ancient history.)

It’s a shame that my old commenting system packed up, as I remember quite a lot of people disagreeing with me, and I’d like to check back. I wonder whether anyone’s opinions have changed since then?

2 thoughts on “Friends and “friends”.”

  1. Mike, I so miss your long, interesting, throught-provoking posts such as the one you refer to above.

    My own approach to FB, which enjoy and use a lot, is to take advantage of the medium as a performance space. I think arguments that compare FB unfavourably to real friendships are comparing two dissimilar things. FB has nothing to do with friendship, so the people who like to present some sort of (slightly superior-sounding?) disinterested detachment by saying “I only friend people I know in real life” are expecting FB to mirror real relationships.

    I have several friends on FB who are good at doing FB. *In that medium* they’re witty, mischievous, or find interesting things for me to look at. In real life, months or years might go without us having the kind of meetings over coffee romanticised by critics of FB. The last person I added, a friend of a friend, is someone I’ve never met but who I gathered was quite a wit. And so she is. She makes me smile and I look forward to seeing her updates. That does not in any way reflect on the authenticity of our relationship. It’s an online one, facilitated by the particular conditions of its expression, which determine that expression.

    Part of the reason humans like having friends is that you are different with all of them. Each brings out different sides of your character. It’s not that one is more real or genuine than the other. They’re all part of your make-up. FB adds another one of those sides for you to play with.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, looby. I was recently debating the performance-based aspect of FB with a friend, who saw it very much as a “performance space”. I argued that it was less performative than the blogosphere (and indeed Twitter), partly because anonymity/pseudonymity isn’t the norm on FB, where the vast majority post under their real names. So you get less of the persona, and more of the person. Then again, as you illustrate, everybody’s experiences of these platforms is different, and a lot rests on how you choose to post and who you choose to befriend (or follow/subscribe/blogroll etc).

    For my own part, I recently culled my Twitter followees and Facebook friends, both by a factor of nearly 50%. As I use Facebook more for interactions with people I know offline, and Twitter more for music journo/blogpal interactions and speedy link-sharing, I trimmed each list accordingly. (But the main objective was to spend less time reading tweets and status updates, as I’m a “read everything” kind of guy.)

    Perhaps we’d be better off with new words. “Friend” in a FB context (and indeed “follower” in a Twitter context) carries inferences that can blur many people’s perceptions of the interactions that are actually taking place.

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