There’s plenty of talk at the moment about the impact of social networking sites on friendship. Bring up the topic at a party or during a coffee break and you will certainly trigger quite a lively discussion. Some will tell you that Facebook is the end of friendship as we know it. Others will proudly report how they reconnect and interact with so many more people than they used to and how that certainly cannot be a bad thing, can it?
I would offer a boring compromise. My close friends are still my close friends and there will always be only a handful of them. Similarly, there will always be a few hundred others I’m just not that close to – whether they now populate my Facebook newsfeed or not. In other words, social networking sites are unlikely to change how important a person is to me, but they will change the way I interact with them. It adds and alters the mix of communication channels.
0=not a friend, 1=friend
A general problem in this discussion whether it’s good or bad to have 583 Facebook friends is this inconspicuous little word “friend”. It’s quite a tricky one. Facebook deals with friends in a binary fashion. 0=not a friend, 1=friend. It might be a cultural thing that Americans see the world that way, but it’s certainly a bit too black and white for the rest of us. Of course, for a critical commentator, it is then quite easy to jump at a friends list with 583 people and announce the end of friendship.
Would it help if Facebook had a more nuanced friends classification scheme? Let’s say, it could range from “most awesome best friend in the world” to “randomly met at a party on my way out”. While this would certainly make it more clear that not all Facebook friends are created equal, it would be terribly unfeasible, as I recently discovered.
Friends on a scale from 1 to 10
I decided to do a bit of social management on my Facebook friends list. My newsfeed had been full of stuff and people I wasn’t interested it, my privacy settings didn’t distinguish between different groups of people, and overall I wanted to have a bit more intimacy with those close friends I care about. So the idea was to create different lists (you can do that) and assign friends to them according to how close I am to them.
This failed. I must admit that rating friends according to some one-dimensional scale is a terrible, useless, and probably quite unethical idea. From a practical point of view, I had to give up after 10 people or so because it took me forever for each of them to decide where to put them. Funnily enough, while I was thinking about them and where to put them, they tended to move back up the scale and I felt the urge to contact them immediately.
So in the end, I ended up creating lists according to how I know the person, for example high school, work, and so on. This turned out to be quite nice because I can now tune in to different social news streams from different stages of my life. I also ended up deleting a few people because – despite all my research attempts – I could not figure out who they are and how I know them.