The Strange Dynamic of Facebook Friendships

What a complicated world in which we live. Those of us who remember life before social media, even before the web, can think back to a time when life was simpler. Not painless, but more straightforward.

In developed society today, with the advent of social media, it seems to me that navigating the world is a lot more complicated. The flip side of that is there are a myriad more opportunities for fame and fortune, but they come with a price.

I’ve thought a lot over the years about the strange situation in which we find ourselves in a world where Facebook commands so much of our social lives. In a short amount of time, it’s gone from a platform for college students to communicate, to a tech giant that has minimized or replaced our phone books, social email and conversations, and revolutionized the way we do business and life. It is pretty astounding.

Along the way, how we connect with others has been overhauled by Facebook as well. It has created an artificial context for relationships.

It is fascinating to think about how it has changed … just about everything. For this post, I want to focus on Facebook “friendship,” if you can call it that.

Real life friends vs. Facebook friends

Real life friends are the people besides your family that are closest to you. The folks you do life with: go to each other’s homes, exchange meals, go see movies, share in hobbies, talk about life, problems with. That is typically a pretty small group of people. For me, the friends I see regularly is fewer than 20. When you start to add in acquaintances and old friends, the list gets larger.

On Facebook, the list gets expanded dramatically. Suddenly everyone you’ve ever met, and everyone you just met, are eligible to become “friends” with you on Facebook. Depending on your philosophy for who you add, the list can get large and outlandish in a big hurry.

  • Friends of friends you met once or twice
  • People you meet at a party
  • People you go out on two dates with
  • Friends of your parents
  • Friends of your siblings
  • Distant relatives
  • Co-workers and other work contacts (sometimes even people you’ve never met)
  • People from schools you attended (friends, acquaintances, teachers, staff)
  • People who friend request strangers for reasons that no one can figure out
  • Those who you quickly find out are only on Facebook to spam you with the products they are selling

When you compare your in-person friends to the people you are connected to on Facebook, it can sometimes seem laughable. Many of these people you have nothing in common with, and yet somehow, they have become part of your digital community.

For those of us who are children of the 1980s, it would have been chuckle-worthy in our youth to think that we’d be sharing our vacation photos with our college science professor, posting about our engagement or anniversary so that our exes could see it, or telling 500 people what we are eating for lunch. I’m not knocking any of that, just pointing out how absurd that would have seemed to us, even at the beginning of this millennium.

Implications of anti-social media

It’s still a strange case study to me that you can be “friends” with someone on Facebook with no effort at all, just the click of a “request friend” button. Similarly, we can un-friend someone effortlessly, again just by clicking a button. In real life, making or losing friends bears no resemblance to that. We have to work hard to get to know someone and earn their friendship. If they offend us, it is much less sanitized to remove them than clicking them out of our lives. It can get messy.

But it’s messy in FB land too, sometimes. I don’t suppose I’m the only one who’s gone to message someone or see what they’re up to, only to realize I’ve been tossed to the digital curb, without so much as a “you can keep your opinions to yourself” parting shot. Depending on who it is, it can range anywhere from deeply hurtful to just a chin-scratch and move on.

For my part, I’ve unceremoniously unfriended dozens of people over the years also. My reasons vary from posting too much; posting too much that I hated; being a friend for a season that was ending; someone(s) I don’t enjoy in real life, so why be mandated to review their thoughts on life, and I’m sure plenty of other reasons.

I’ve modified my SOP over the years; I don’t unfriend people anymore. This is due in part to the glorious “unfollow” button, where you can remain friends without seeing their posts. So utterly passive-aggressive, yet so helpful. Judge me if you want.

Yet as I think on my various reasons I used to unfriend people without the courtesy of goodbye, I can’t help but think of some people who’ve ditched me that have hurt my feelings – especially those who I thought I was good friends with.

Thus we have the awkward anti-social element of Facebook. It’s even worse than breaking up with someone via text. You don’t even have to notify them. One day, you just see a former pal on the “suggested friends” list and realize, “HEYYY! I see what you did there. What did I do??”

Facebook friendships are easy come, easy go. I’ve come to conclude that, in its relationally primitive way, that is what it comes down to. My ditched “friends” never got an explanation from me, nor did I get one from my rejectors. It all comes out even in the end I suppose.

The point

My scattered, rambling point is mainly to highlight the sometimes ridiculous and artificial nature of Facebook friendships that have now become the norm.

There are myriad benefits to being connected to so many people. I personally enjoy keeping up with folks from all stages of life that I would probably never see otherwise. The drawbacks are real and awkward, however. I’m just here to point some of them out and chuckle about them when possible.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Who is the most random person you have on your Facebook friend list?


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