In October 2008 I wrote a post called Are We Really Friends where I questioned the quality of the relationships that social networking sites were creating and facilitating. Granted, this was in 2008, so a lot has changed since then. But I recently re-read the article and something stood out to me:
“While cruising Facebook, I’m often amazed at how many friends people have and wonder what the quality of these relationships is. Do we really know these people? Do we really care about them? What was the criteria for them becoming our friend – or is there any criteria anymore?? Are we just auto-programmed to click “approve” anytime we receive a friend request? What does it really mean to know someone these days? Has the digital age of social networking created an obsessive need to amass as large a following as possible just to maintain some status?”
Yes, not sure if it’s weird to quote yourself, but moving on.
Something recently happened that triggered all this for me. I was on Facebook and the mother of someone I went to church with when I was a child sent me a Facebook Friend request. She is a lovely woman — but I haven’t spoken to or seen her in probably 13 years at least! For some reason, I decided to just click “Approve” and be her Facebook Friend.
But then something happened … Facebook promptly asked me a follow up question:
See the yellow part? Upon accepting the friend request from Sally, Facebook then asked me: “Do you know Sally outside of Facebook?”
Something about this just feels strange to me.
I think this question might make more sense on something like LinkedIn. I have some people that I’ve accepted connection requests from on LinkedIn who I’ve never met in person — potential collaborators, people seeking mentorship or advice, or people I’ve got to know on Twitter. This makes sense on LinkedIn because to me, LinkedIn is about growing and maintaining your professional network … (emphases on growing your network.)
This leads me back to my post from 2008 where I asked, “what does it really mean to know someone?”
I’d argue that you can develop a good relationship with someone whom you’ve never met in person. In the past, I’ve worked with remote-team members and felt like I knew them fairly well prior to meeting them in person. I’ve connected with people on Twitter who although I’ve never met in person, would consider someone I know well.
But, I’m not sure I could go as far to put them in the friend category.
This was solidified for me by some research. I recently I stumbled across a great article in the Guardian, “Social Networking Aside, How Many Friends Do You Have?” Author Zoe Williams writes:
“A quarter of a century ago, before Facebook, back in the day when you had to be indoors to phone somebody, we had an average of three friends each. The study – by Time Sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences (TESS for short, and I’d definitely like to be her friend, she sounds fun) defined friends as close confidantes, people to whom you can tell anything.”
She goes on to write about Dunbar’s Number and introduces a Portuguese saying that I think captures a great view of friendship and what a true friend is, “You have five friends, and the rest is landscape.”
No doubt, there are numerous benefits to living in a more socially connected world. But, I often wonder how many people are developing a false sense of true friendship through social networking.
How many people on Facebook could list 3 people that they would tell anything to … Especially if you didn’t know that person outside of Facebook?
Are our lives becoming too landscaped?
What do you think?
Are you “friends” with people on Facebook that you only know through Facebook? Could you honestly say that you have 3 friends to whom you could tell anything?