Recently I took a Facebook vacation, or, as I like to call it, a Facation (not to be confused with a fake vacation). My Facation started rather uneventfully. No packing of suitcases, no plane tickets, no suntan lotion and no special announcements. Moreover, it was completely unplanned, beginning spontaneously as one day I simply decided to log out.
My Facation lasted nearly two months. During this time, I went about my regular life including my work, entertainment, social life and traveling but didn't log back in.
I didn't notice that Facebook was missing in my life. The daily newsfeeds, messages and invitations to events kept arriving though I was completely unaware. Removing Facebook from my life was like a casual acquaintance who suddenly moves away and is not thought of again.
During my Facation, I still communicated with my family and close friends. We still talked, emailed, went to restaurants, museums, and spent time together. These relationships flowed on without missing a step. Meanwhile, the majority of my Facebook friends, people with whom I have a light-touch relationship (causal friends -- many of whom I have not seen nor spoken with in years) didn't notice my absence.
There's a space in life for light-touch relationships. There is value in friendships with people with whom you will likely never see but enjoy an occasional message. They help create a vast network of contacts that can make us feel more connected to the broader world. They might even someday help me find a job or an apartment. Facebook, Twitter , Whatsapp, Instagram, Viper and other social media are terrific at creating, refreshing and retaining light-touch relationships.
My birthday had passed during my Facation. When I finally logged back in, I smiled as I read the birthday messages though I knew that most of those well-wishers will never see me in person or even talk with me on the phone.
A friend had lost a child. There was a flood of messages of comfort posted. To me it struck me as an impersonal way to support a grieving parent yet this minimal effort of typing a message probably still helped the parent feel as if there was a broader world that empathized with her loss.
So, while I believe there is some value in these light-touch relationships, they are, by definition, light. Most Facebook interactions remind me of "office friends" -- people you enjoy chatting with at work but generally people with whom you do not choose to go out of your way to interact.
It is a cliché that your true friends are those who support you through troubled times. Similarly, a measure of friendship is the willingness to invest in the relationship -- investing time, effort, and emotion. With both Facebook friends and office friends, the time and social investment is minimal so the relationship is supported with minimal barriers to overcome. The relationship relies on convenience. Not surprisingly, for most, the return on this relationship is usually very limited.
I had two very close friends throughout my teenage years, Ed and Kenny. All three of us grew apart after high school as our lives moved in different directions. The last time I saw or spoke with Kenny was at Ed's funeral about fifteen years ago. Kenny and I are not Facebook friends but if an emergency arose and I reached out to Kenny, I have no doubt that he would show up at my doorstep to do whatever he could to help me.
As for my post-Facation plans, well, I probably will check in once in a while going forward since I do enjoy occasionally looking at the newsfeed and messages. Sometimes there is an event or get-together I am interested in joining. Clearly I still derive some joy from virtual friendships.
That said, I value the friendships I have in the real world vastly more than my virtual, light-touch friendships. Given the limited time we all have, we need to make choices and the more time spent on the virtual, light-touch relationships, the less time available for real-world friends and lasting real-world relationships.