As the holiday season surrounds us, I'm looking ahead to the new year. Time to clean house, to rearrange furniture, time to throw out the old and bring in the new. But in my social network, there is a similar thing happening -- time to clear out those "impulse friends" that I added, for no apparent reason other than that it was a good idea at the time.
The "friending" phenomenon that is so prevalent in social networking is a side effect of the Facebook culture; people running into other people in a virtual gathering, and mutually agreeing to be "friends". In this virtual world, we have people whom we know personally, aka "friends" in the most general definition, we have "associates" -- people who we know through someone else, and then there are "impulse additions" -- folks that we allow into our personal circles by virtue of what benefits they can potentially bring us. Things like spiritual or intellectual enlightenment, job offers, connections, or even celebrity shoulder-rubbing. Just like in a real scenario, we run into a variety of these personalities, each with his or her own interests and backgrounds. But it is within this variety that, on occasion, we see something that catches our eye, like seeing the gleam of a quarter in the sand. We become intrigued with what seems to be, on the surface, a great opportunity to enhance our network -- to add people to our friend circle by "friending" them virtually, even if in many cases we have never even met that person before. All this in our efforts to grow our personal communities, to make our internet social networks something bigger, if not better, than our real ones.
But for whatever reason we decide to invite these people into our virtual families, we have to take a step back for a moment, and wonder to ourselves -- "do I actually interact with this person at all?". With the friend list as this [sometimes] gigantic collection of thumbnail pics, do you really have an actual "friend" in each of those entries?
I'll be the first to admit, I have "friended" many people on a whim. These would include coworkers, writers, politicians, vendors, semi-famous people, and the occasional cheerleader or lingerie model. Now, granted, in the air of being open minded and "social" [this would be my feeble attempt at self-justification], I have added people who just seemed very nice, and in some instances my friending has been an act of being "cordial", sort of like offering a friendly "hello" when introduced to someone at a party. What does not translate well online is that a virtual "hello" all of the sudden opens up your entire personal life, to someone who might have absolutely no interest in it whatsoever.
Talk about an awkward situation -- "Hi, my name's Gil, you don't know me, and we've never met personally, but let me show you recent pics of my recovery from gall bladder surgery".
So, as rare as this might be in the real world, it's as easy as clicking on the "Accept" button to create this online.
So maybe there's an unwritten "rule" about friending, that we as a society are still learning about, or maybe we're still "defining" it? The social skills that we hold true in real life tend to be much more stringent than those of our alternate virtual world. What might be taboo in real life, can be considered totally fine online. Perhaps this is where some of the gray areas lie. We leave it to ourselves to decide who we want on our friends list, but how productive is a huge friends list anyways? My contention is that its time to rethink how we define what a "friend" is online, and move forward with a better understanding of how we decide when to send a friend request to a virtual stranger.
In the meantime, I will be cleaning up my friends list of those "impulse friend additions", while others do the same. Question is, am I an impulse addition on yours or someone elses list? If so, I totally understand if you unfriend me, the same way that I hope you understand ...
Because we're friends, right???