I mean the one about what it really means to be a “friend” and to “like,” because Facebook has ruined the meanings of both of them.
Thanks to Facebook, people who, pre-Zuckerberg, would have been categorized as “acquaintances,” “classmates,” “colleagues,” “teammates,” and “that lady I sometimes talk to in Starbucks” are now considered “friends.” But what does it really mean to be a friend in the Facebook era?
According to Dictionary.com, “friend” means:
- a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard
- a person who gives assistance; patron; supporter
- a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile
But if there were a Facebook Dictionary, “friend” would mean:
- a person you vaguely remember from high school who insists on being in your life again
- someone who liked what you posted on a mutual friend’s wall and thought that writing “LOL!!!!” should lead to being friends
- your mother’s IRL bridge friends
Most days I am reminded that I don’t even know some of the people who are my “friends” when Facebook suggests that I send them a birthday wish and, if I’d like, a gift, as though I’m going to send a present to 1,463 people a year.
But I’m fine with having this collection of friends. I welcome to my Facebook posse people who are fans of my writing, not to mention former high school classmates, clients, fellow cancer survivors, and all sorts of people I’ve never met in person.
But what does “friend” mean to kids who didn’t live before Facebook’s friending and liking? Do they understand that there are different levels of friendship online (and in person)? Do they regulate what they share with those levels or does anything go nowadays? Or are they more likely to fall for Facebook hoaxes, like fake girlfriends, because they don’t know the difference between real friends and Facebook/online ones?
And what about Facebook Likes? Lately, I’ve been trapped in a circle of people who liked that I liked what they liked. Or whatever. I can’t keep track. But imagine if in real life there was a social pressure to express our profound like for what people say and do:
“I like that you said ‘I love you.'”
“I like that you are getting the dinner out of the oven!”
“I like that you just washed your hands after you used the bathroom.”
“I like that you like that Downton Abbey is on in an hour.”
We’d all sound like we’re talking to pre-schoolers all day long. (“I like that you used your indoor voice.” “I like that you apologized to your brother for punching his stuffed animal.”)
Yet “friends” and “likes” are a concrete measurement of our social know-how, and it’s hard not to watch them add up. On Facebook, you can count — and display — the number of friends and likes you have. You can even use Klout to measure how you’re doing.
In real life, it’s far more nebulous. If you make someone laugh and no one else hears it, does it count? If someone likes your new shoes, but doesn’t share that news with all her friends, does it matter?
In the Facebook era, maybe not as much.
Tell us what you think, or at least, hit LIKE. I’d really like that.