Where does the "social" part end and the "networking" part begin?
I have had the odd experience, over the past week, of receiving two "friend" requests from people previously unknown to me, that were immediately (well, minutes later) followed by favor requests, of a professional sort. This made me slightly cranky. Granted, I know that Facebook is a "social networking tool," but sometimes I think that the word "friend" is a bit misleading. I might have been less cranky to be asked for the favor, had the request reached me via the email account that I use for work.
I thought of a friend of mine--a true friend, made face to face, our friendship deepened over years of shared experiences, good and bad--who has a policy of not accepting friend requests from a) former students, b) anyone she doesn't know. In my crankiness, her policy made good sense. But then again, I do like the possibility engendered by the site, of connecting with someone I might not otherwise have had the chance to overlap with, and forming something like a friendship--if not quite. It has happened. There are people on my friend list who intrigue and delight me from afar, when I happen upon their status updates. But more often, these "friendships" with strangers stagnate. And ones struck back up with old acquaintances often remind me of why we drifted apart to begin with. All of this has as much to do with my character--I dislike the term "people person" as much as people who consider themselves "people people"--as the limitations of the site. I hate the idea of going to a social event because it might be a good "networking opportunity." They never lead to much, and they're usually a drag. It's like we're supposed to feel like everything is fun now, but instead everything that used to be fun now feels like an extension of work. Friends are really colleagues. It's all mixed up.
When I was back in Oregon, an old friend from high school (with whom I'd reconnected on Facebook, of course) mentioned how "You have to put up about 8 to 9 random and interesting status updates for every 1 that has to do with self-promotion." I thought about how right she was, even though I'd never heard the rule articulated, how otherwise people look a bit greedy and grabby, trumpeting their successes or asking for audience members, readers, fans, whatever. Not friends.
But then again, and I know I'm in the minority here, I'm not sure I need to know when someone is "making cookies on a foggy morning, yum!" or "gearing up to watch Girl With a Dragon Tattoo on Netflix." Even when I do read about someone doing something that sounds like fun, I wonder what it really adds to their pleasure, to see me add my thumbs-up sign along with thirteen other friends who "like this!"
Recently, an old high school classmate that I'd never known in person joined Facebook with a lot of fanfare. A friend request was followed by daily messages and wall posts galore, many of which seemed copied to everyone on his list. I found out about everything that had happened to him over the fifteen years that I had not been wondering about, since I never really knew him to begin with. I learned of his illnesses--startling, for a man his age--his career highs and lows. He was quite candid, given the public nature of his correspondence. And then, after a few manic days of posting, he sent all of his new friends a message announcing that he had decided to leave Facebook. "It's just not for me," he wrote without the confessional zeal I'd come to expect. He had seemed to love it, to be made for it, but I guess it wasn't what he'd been hoping for after all. After an initial greeting, I for one had not responded to his daily messages. I had work to do, and he wasn't really my friend. I can't say that I truly miss him, although now I do wonder how he is.