I have often thought, as I know many others have as well, that social networking sites have made us more unsocial than we were before we had them. Don’t get me wrong I love them but when we sit down to lunch with a friend what are we doing, reaching for our phone to see what other followers and friends are doing. This blog is only going to talk about Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook; simple because those are my three main social networks of choice. I know there are many others and maybe there is the perfect one but if it is out there the majority isn’t using it—yet.
My first question [this one is directed at Facebook]; “Has the social networking website Facebook altered our vocabulary to the point that when we say, ‘John Doe, is my friend’ that same statement no longer carries the weight it did just ten years ago?” I find myself often telling people I do consider friends “this is what my friend on Facebook said…” but when I really think about it that person that I call a “friend” is only called that because that is what Facebook has decided to define all my relationships as. Have we taken the depth of relationships and contact with other people to a single level that now the word “friend” can’t mean anything any more? What happens to a society when our boss, the butcher, the delivery guy, our family and those we have life experience with all are clumped into one group and just called “friends”? We add our boss, the delivery guy (all of them), and the butcher because somehow we feel we have a connection with them and they promise us things if we “friend them”. I get it at this point when Twitter and Instagram call it “follower”. Have we misused the intentions of Facebook and it is a user error and not a corporation problem?
Hold on, I’m just getting warmed up! Consider this question “Do you really have that many people (followers or friends) that you genuinely care about enough to tell them what you had for lunch today?” This is a two-sided question. One, the massive numbers we are connected to is that necessary or real? Two, is what you ate important enough to that many people you are socially networking with? For me I’ve been over 1,000 friends on Facebook (Twitter and Instagram is a long ways from that) but I start to realize many of them I met when I was out with someone or in passing because of and at work. I personally don’t get any gratification out of padding my network with these “acquaintances” and have decided the best I can do is cut that number by about half. I still feel like I want to take that number down even more but you know the funny thing is I remove about 300 “friends” every year and somehow I still accept back those I’ve removed (I’m trying not to in 2015 and diversify my social networking a bit more away from Facebook). What about the other side of that question, do the 1,000+ friends really care about my bowl of soup? You know what, I’m one of the most guilty of posting photos of food; I love to BBQ and love just as much when I share my BBQ with friends. I would guess this is the same for everyone–but my love for sharing is not just the photo, I love to sit down with friends after I’ve marinated some meat for three or four days then slow cooked it all day long. Because I can’t always do this I use the social networking sites as a release to gain the gratification of sharing even if it is really just making others hungry and jealous. But for me the question isn’t really just about food. Do my “followers/friends” really care that I had a flat tire on the way to work? Or do they really care that my kid just ate a bug–even if it is culturally acceptable where I live for kids to eat bugs (fired of course!)? I dare say more than 90% of our “followers/friends” don’t care at all [this is assumed off of personal research I’ve done that shows somewhere between 5-10% of “friends” comment or “like” anything we post, and typically the same people] Bringing this question full circle to say more than 90% of our friends are only padding our social networks with people who really don’t care. Because in the end any of us only have the energy in a given day to care for our own family, and maybe a couple other truly close friends.
Am I speaking any truth yet? If you haven’t called it quits yet how about a wrestle with this question “Is there a difference between a “Follower” [Twitter and Instagram] and a “Friend” [Facebook]” What if the social networking community came together and said we want a single word to define people we connect with and the only two words on the table to consider are “Follower” and “Friend” I know I would select follower over friend without even hesitating. I believe that follower is the socially acceptable phrase for stalker and I feel a selection of my Facebook are really just stalking what I’m do and don’t genuinely care about me beyond wanting to just watch (I’ve come to this conclusion after moving away from Facebook and putting effort into Twitter and Instagram, I told my Facebook “friends” and out of my 500+ friends four followed me to Twitter, about 10% of the 5-10% that normally interact), and that is why this year more than 400 were “unfriended” on Facebook. The interesting thing now is those that have been “unfriended” I wouldn’t even consider them close enough to call friends to their face and it wouldn’t even phase them (most of them anyway).
I’m going to keep in the same idea of follower and friend but step away from the social networks with this next question. “Why do we call a family friend/acquaintance auntie/uncle, even when we aren’t close? Why when we feel we have a strong connection with another family we feel it appropriate to call them also “family” when we have done nothing more than to sit in a few meetings and eat a few meals with them?” I live in Thailand, and when I go to the market I always use the words auntie/uncle because it is apart of the culture that shows respect. For me the Thai words don’t hold the significance that the English words do so I can say it in Thai and not be rattled. I do have close friends that I want my kids to call auntie/uncle but for me that is very few. Then in the cross culture expat community I work in there are those that call our community “family”, it has a nice warm fuzzy feeling. Cultural respect I’m fine with, but my culture, the way I was brought up was: My family is my family–you walk the extra mile with me, the hard mile, you bleed with me, you cry with me, you hurt with me, then we can talk about calling you auntie, uncle, grandma, grandpa and then we party together.
Anyone still with me? Because here is the turn; can you now forget everything I’ve said and realize nothing said up to this point matters. I’m serious, forget it all. It was just a setup to get to the two questions that truly need an answer:
“Does anyone love me? Do I matter?”