What’s in a friend?

I use social media. I use social media a lot. I prefer Twitter to Instagram and LinkedIn to Facebook, but I use them all. I check in on Foursquare regularly and tvtag once in a while. I still don’t get Google+, but sometimes I go on there, too. (Pinterest still escapes me. Completely.) So, yes, I like social media, but there’s something about it that leaves me feeling a little, I don’t know, uncomfortable. That something is the word friend.

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As I mentioned the other day, I know firsthand the value of friendships that emerge online. I also know how online interactions can enhance relationships that already exist. My trouble with the internet and friends begins when we start referring to our acquaintances as more than that.

“What else would you call them?” you might ask. I don’t have an answer for that, but I do believe that Facebook has started to distort our definition of friendship. Is that woman I met at a baby shower three years ago, the one who liked a couple of my photos from that day, but from whom I’ve never heard since going to offer to pick me up from the airport when I need a ride home? Is the second cousin of an ex-boyfriend going to be there to listen when I need to sort out some existential crisis? Is the shoulder I cry on going to be that of someone I once practiced lacrosse with all the while never ever having a real conversation? Would I walk up to a coworker with whom I have nothing in common and show them a picture of me as a baby, my cat or what I ate for dinner? The answer to all of those questions: nope.

If you’re using Facebook, you’re likely to eventually populate some portion of your friends list with people like those I’ve listed above: people you connected with at one point or people you know, but wouldn’t call for drinks on a Saturday night or in case of emergency. (Unless you’re Amy. She is totally awesome at being all business about keeping her Facebook REAL friends only.)

Friends are vital in life. We need friendship and human connection. Lurking and being lurked online isn’t connection and certainly isn’t necessary. The people I know on Facebook are not all friends. For that reason, I’ve started to get rid of them.

After watching Look Up, my friend Keith and I entered into a few lengthy debates about life with and without social media. Those debates led me to reconsider how I do my personal business on Facebook. Put simply, if someone’s birthday comes up in my notifications, I ask myself, “would I send that person a birthday card in the mail?” If not, I consider things like:

  • Do I feel genuine affection towards this person?
  • Does this person interest me?
  • Does my connection to this person add to my life?
  • Have I interacted with this person in the last little while?

It isn’t a perfect science, but you get where I’m going with this. We’ve all added people from high school, camp or a previous job and proceeded to never message them, never learn more about their life (other than by creeping them) and never ever really give a hoot about their existence again.

You know how they tell us that the average person sees up to 20000 ads per day and everyone reacts by saying that we’re being overrun by marketing departments? I’ve started to think of fake Facebook friends and their feeds as virtual clutter. I don’t need it and don’t want it so I’m moving on and it’s nothing personal. In the truest sense of the phrase, it’s not them, it’s me.

To each their own, though. I know Kevin uses Facebook in a completely different way than I do. While it is totally social for me, for him, it’s much more about networking. While his friends list is long, his wall is blank. He doesn’t post status updates or photos and he rarely comments on anything anyone else has put out there. He uses Facebook to connect with a vast number of lacrosse players and other people involved in the sport from locations all over the world. His connections help him keep his ear to the ground on who’s who, who’s doing what and who’s available.

For me, I stay connected with people I’ve met throughout my travels, some online, some off. For how Facebook allows me to keep up with their adventures, watch their children grow and nurture our relationships, I love it. For all the other stuff, I decided to control my own destiny.

I think it’s dangerous to refer to our acquaintances as friends. It may sound dramatic, but I also think that the words we choose are very important. On Twitter and Instagram we count followers, but, as far as I’m concerned, we should never count friends in numbers mostly because when we do, this:

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