I recently "de-friended" someone on Facebook after seeing this status update: "I just got back from Costco and I'm having a Diet Coke." She was not banished because she shops at Costco. In fact, that's somewhat of a status symbol here in Manhattan because it means you have a car. No, I terminated her because of the sheer banality of her message, and because she changes her status so many times a day.
Now, she's a very nice woman and I'm not a mean girl. And fortunately, people are not alerted when they are de-friended (destined to become an official verb, like "googled"). But I don't know this woman well and simply could no longer take her clutter of updates, Wall posts, videos, invites, and Friend Suggestions. I had a Facebook meltdown. I snapped. I hit delete. As luck would have it, I ran into her a few days later. She appeared unaware of my recent treachery, but I felt bad.
I joined Facebook early on. I thought it would be a great way to check in with friends more often. My "Friends" list started to grow. I filled out my profile -- romantic status, birthday sans year -- and uploaded my photo (candid, not a portrait. This is very important. Business or portrait photos are not cool on Facebook. And by the way, don't use a photo on LinkedIn. It's considered kind of nerdy).
But my hope to have a semi-private online meeting place was dashed by people whose sole purpose was to get as many Friends as possible. These brazen displays of wanton Friend collecting were done with little regard to the nature of the relationship. Some were people who I knew, or had met, but with whom I had no contact. I accepted their invites, fearing I might insult them if I did not. I know these Friend hustlers pose a dilemma to others as well. But perhaps we're just jealous of their big Friends lists. Your "number" is no longer the number of sexual partners you've had, but your Facebook Friends tally. In my network the largest I've seen is 468. My number is a modest 87. But I haven't been trying, and I've denied Friend requests. Really.
Of course, we use the word "friend" very loosely in our society. Dictionaries define it as "attached by affection and esteem". You can usually count those on one hand. "Acquaintance" is often a better description of a relationship, but it sounds awkward and cold. But Facebook has redefined the word to include people you worked with 20 years ago but haven't spoken to since, people from high school that you weren't even friends with then, and someone to whom you gave your business card 12 minutes earlier. And of course, people you simply do not know.
So, with some superfluous Friends on everyone's lists (and hey, I may be viewed as that, too), we are privy to a phalanx of status updates on a variety of topics. I like breaking news and commentary, a bit of philosophy, movie or music recommendations, and wit. My "best" update was when I saw US Air Flt. 1549 lumbering along the Hudson River from my window. But I'm not interested in when you're taking your kids to soccer practice, when you take off and land (which is just to let us know that you are important and travel), or what you had for dinner. But I think some people love that kind of fabric-of-everyday-life approach.
Of course, there is an entire etiquette around romance and Facebook. General rule of thumb, don't invite people you are seeing to become Friends. While you may want to know everything about them and who all their Friends are, you may not want them to know everything about you. Of course, if you break up, you've got to make the decision to either de-friend (very passive-aggressive and usually done a few minutes after the break-up. Take that!) or stay hooked in, torturing yourself with news of where he's going, what he's doing, and with whom.
I had an ex-boyfriend recently ask to be a Friend. We had tried to be real life friends a while after we broke up but apparently he met someone and fell hard and simply stopped responding to me, without explanation. So he was trying the Facebook non-confrontational, non-apologetic way to see if I would be receptive to being in contact with him again. After some thought, I decided to ignore his Friend request. If he wants to get back in my good graces, let him do it the old-fashioned way. Email me.
Follow Val Brown on Twitter: www.twitter.com/valbrownuk