It is time for us to take back the word ‘friend’ from Facebook.
Lonely genius Mark Zuckerberg didn’t have any friends, so he needed to create a system, a network, to obtain false friendships. He smartly baked the word “friend” into the DNA of Facebook – where it has become a generic label, a verb. In the process of Facebook becoming a juggernaut, the word “friend” has become ubiquitous and trashed — and lost its true meaning.
“Friend me.” “Like me.”
And Zuckerberg tapped into our natural obsessive qualities and insecurities, our need to be “liked” and to have more “friends.”
Before Facebook, one would describe a friendship as a deep and long-term acquaintance. A person you know well and regard with affection and trust, “he was my best friend at college.”
Facebook has lowered that barrier and we are ushering in false friends too quickly into our lives. Too close, too comfortable, too soon.
So what can you do about this steady decline that is eroding true friendships?
Delete people. I did so this past week. I removed 100 of my Facebook “friends.” Right now, I hover around 25 friends. And these are the people that really matter to me.
It was rather easy. And I feel very relieved. When I post a Facebook status or share a photo, I am more natural with my “inner-circle” of true friends and family.
With a larger group of false friends, you can become too obsessed with how you are perceived, “How will I be judged? What will they think of me?”
You create a ‘public persona’ and try to be cool in a self-conscious and demonstrative style – and that’s very uncool. Honestly, I don’t care what an ex-girlfriend from 20 years ago thinks of me – or some soccer mom that I had just met. The only opinions that matter are the opinions of your family and true friends.
Before the launch of the popular social network, a friendship was described as a friend demonstrating the following on a consistent basis (via Wikipedia):
• The tendency to desire what is best for the other
• Sympathy and empathy
• Honesty, perhaps in situations where it may be difficult for others to speak the truth, especially in terms of pointing out the perceived faults of one’s counterpart
• Mutual understanding and compassion
• Trust in one another (able to express feelings – including in relation to the other’s actions – without the fear of being judged); able to go to each other for emotional support
• Positive reciprocity – a relationship is based on equal give and take between the two parties.
Now, look at your Facebook “friends.” If they don’t fall into the above, consider removing them. And don’t be self-conscious. Don’t worry about what they think or how they will perceive you. Never once worry, “oh, what will they think if I de-friend them?”
But, you wouldn’t be de-friending a true “friend” anyway, correct?
It is in your right to communicate in the style you are most comfortable with. Don’t make excuses or blame it on your spouse. If it matters, just say you’ve gone “family and close friends only.” If someone that you’ve just met wants to friend you – just politely decline with a similar and brief statement.
I believe in the social networking separation of church and state. For myself, I have family and close friends on Facebook – and general acquaintances and professional contacts on LinkedIn. One could also consider creating two Facebook accounts – personal and professional pages.
When a professional contact tries to “friend me” – I just tell them I use Facebook for sharing photos of my kids with my extended family – but please connect with me on LinkedIn, and I include a link to my profile.
Facebook has eroded the true meaning of friendship, but it’s not too late for us all to wise up. Before Facebook, it was an honor to call someone a “friend.” It had to be gained, long term, with an emotion reward.
Facebook fast tracks that process, falsely, without the natural checks and balances. People get too casual, too chatty, too quickly – “Oh, it’s ok for me to ‘like’ these pictures of the soccer mom I just met, I mean, I am ‘friends’ with her.” Married men need to tread very lightly and appropriately. LA Times has a must-read article on this topic “Married, with ‘just friends’” here: http://articles.latimes.com/2008/mar/03/health/he-justfriends3
And where there’s smoke, there’s fire. According to ABC News:
Twenty percent of divorces involve Facebook and 80 percent of divorce lawyers have reported a spike in the number of cases that use social media for evidence, according to a survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. – read more
So basically, married men, you can’t be “friends” with married or single women (there are some exceptions, of course). It’s not appropriate. Focus that energy on your wife, real friends, extended family and children. Upload photos from your wedding, talk about your spouse or kids, instead of sending messages to that soccer mom. It might be a thrill to gently flirt — but it could be perceived as creepy. Also, you are robbing time away from the people that matter to you most.
Really, who doesn’t want to be “liked” and have “friends”? Friendless Zuckerburg has tapped into our natural insecurities – and there’s a reason why Facebook is so successful.
Meanwhile, go have lunch with a real friend in the real world – and tell them how much you truly “like” them.