Maybe it’s just me, but I have reached the point of push back when it comes to social sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter. The openness of the connections on the web has lead people to make the mistake of thinking that, since we know each other in real life, we should be friends in cyberspace. Since crumbling to the pressure to join Facebook, I initially liked the interface and the ability to keep in touch with friends and family. But like a teen with his parents away for the weekend, there seems to be a call out there that there is a party at my place and anyone can come.
First, it was some of my old high school acquaintances who messaged me. There are only a few people from high school that I am interested in tracking, but these people were the ones I was interested in. Ok, not a problem, so I accepted them. At the same time, it was people I game with and enjoy their company at our once a month events. Sure, I enjoy their company at the game so why not keep tabs on them during the time between?
It took me aback when some of my high school classmates wanted in. Sorry, but to be honest, if I haven’t spoken to you in the ten years since high school, I’m not super interested in talking to you now. Same for the friend of a friend people from the gaming events. I don’t even recognize your whole name, which is when my thoughts first started wandering down this path. And when people I can’t stand start trying to friend me on Facebook and Twitter, that’s when the line in the sand was drawn. Well, perhaps a line in the sand is not the right term. This is more of a Berlin-esque wall to keep the “good” people in and the “bad” people out.
It really got me to thinking about the previous versions of social networks that existed out there. I remember dialing into BBSs, electronic bulletin boards, where the numbers were like secret codes to another computer speakeasies. People would post topics, play games, and swap files. Membership was limited to those people who actually had modem technology and the ability to use it. Then, with the rise of the computer networks like Compuserve and Prodigy, you could join in discussions on specific topics and private groups sprang up. In college, the internet was made available on campuses. Email, message boards, and chat rooms were the next steps, coupled with instant message programs became the new connectivity. Since graduating college in 1999, social networks had plodded along in various forms till Facebook and Myspace made their appearance on the scene. (Yes, I know Facebook had been around for awhile, but not in its present 200 million user form and interface.)
The explosive nature of social networks in the past few years has been breathtaking. The social groups had always existed but the ease of connection had not. As more people bring their lives online, the need for ease came about. And here, here is the tragedy in my story. It became too easy, too expected that anyone you have ever meet ever now has an access point to your life. I started to feel guilty as I brought the mouse over the Ignore button; I simply couldn’t do it at first. Why did I feel so bad about turning down people for “friend” status for my personal online social network? It’s not like I’m going to see them or talk to them or have to answer awkward questions like, “Why are you not my friend?” There is not much consideration on their part to become your friend as it is. More likely than not, they simply saw your profile come up, think to themselves, “Hey, I know that guy”, and clicked the “Friend Request” button. Hell, there is probably more consideration given to the choosing of a breakfast cereal than for a friend request. So why do I feel guilty?
Perhaps it was because as a kid I was excluded by other kids from their play. Perhaps I don’t want anyone to feel the same way I did when I was told that I couldn’t play. Or maybe because the granting of a friend status is so minor, so silly, that who am I to deny it?
Heh, I crack myself up at times.
The more concrete, more accurate answer is one that I arrived to in college. High school forces you to interact with people you generally don’t like or don’t want to deal with; college frees you from the interaction. Sure, there are some annoying or obstinate people you will have to deal with, but the time spend dealing with them starts to reflect conditions in the real world: if you don’t have to deal with them, then you don’t have to deal with them. It’s that simple. So, to carry over this principle to social networks is a snap.
(There are also good arguments for it in controlling your personal information including likes, dislikes, opinions, ideas, thoughts, and daily activities. And for avoiding awkward social moments when someone reads a less than savory opinion about themselves. I wouldn’t doubt that someone might read this and think it talks about them.)
There is one story I’d offer as an example. It has given me the strength to follow my conviction in this matter. During college, there was a very nice but very annoying person who used to tag along to meals with myself and my friends. It turned an average meal into a grating affair as this person sucked the joy out of the eating and socializing experience that was the dining hall. We were miserable, feeling powerless in our situation. One night, in lamenting this social quagmire, I suggested that we work out a system to avoid this person. It was a perfectly horrible yet wonderful utilitarian reasoning that brought forth a solution to the problem: the guilt we felt about ditching the person was minor compared to the aggravation and misery caused by bringing them along. So, we used the phones, messages in passing, and we successfully ditched the person most of the time from then on. Meal times once again became fun.
The bottom line for me is that social network sites are the best way to keeping tabs and sharing life with the people I really truly care about. Some are old friends, some new, others from work, and still others from shared experiences and activities. If you don’t fall into those categories, then I’m sorry, but I really don’t care about what you are doing, I don’t want you to have the ability to comment on my activities, and I think we should lead our lives in parallel: never crossing. Even as I write this, it seems harsh, but the truth sometimes is. The social networks have turned the connectivity from a trickle to a flood, and I’m not interested in the noise outside my select social circle.
Believe me when I say, “It’s not me, it’s you.”