Facebook—Deep Thoughts On a Shallow Subject
for release 01-26-10
by Lightning Rod
The popular media often refers to ‘social networking’ as if it were a new thing, something invented by Facebook. Fortunately it’s been going on for at least as long as our species has existed. As soon as two people figured out that they could bring home the meat more successfully by working together we had social networking. Families and clans and tribes and religions and nations are all examples of social networking.
In one of my numerous college sociology courses I learned of a theory of criminal or anti-social behavior which is based on human tribalism. The theory postulates that a human being, over the course of a lifetime, is able to be acquainted in a meaningful way (trust) with no more than about 200 people, or about the number of people in an extended family or clan. This means that everybody else we encounter is an outsider hence a potential enemy. If we live in a community of over 200 people, social problems arise because it is easier to transgress against a stranger than to do ill to a person who we know. If you count someone as a friend, then you have concern for their well-being. If someone is not a member of your social network, you really don’t care what happens to them.
Sociological theories are almost as numerous as sociology classes so The Poet’s Eye looks askance at many of them, but something about this one makes sense. I’ve had sex with more than 200 people in my life but even that doesn’t qualify them as my ‘friends.’ It takes intimacy over time to make a meaningful acquaintance. In order to trust someone enough to consider them part of your clan it takes observing them for long enough to be able to make predictions about their behavior based on what they have done in the past. We often call this set of data their ‘character.’
Over my lifetime I have met thousands of people but I can probably count the number of true friends on my fingers and toes. Life is short. There simply isn’t time to do the research necessary to vet many people thoroughly enough to trust them as friends.
Trust is not all that is necessary to define a friend. You also need affinity. This could mean shared interests, goals, beliefs or simply animal magnetism. Who knows why we are instantly attracted to some people and just as capriciously repulsed by others? Is it appearance? Body odor? Vibes? Perhaps we project our hopes or prejudices onto them? It couldn’t be only because we trust them because we don’t know them well enough to trust them when we first meet. We may be pleased or intrigued or even infatuated with them but we haven’t had time or circumstance to learn who they really are. This could explain our divorce rate.
Needless to say, my definition of ‘friend’ is something different than the Facebook meaning of the word which slightly insults me because it cheapens the concept of friendship. To me, a friend is much more than someone whose name appears on your list by virtue of two clicks on a mouse button. Friends are made by sharing real life experiences. If you think you can learn enough about someone from a blurry avatar and a self-authored profile description to call them a friend perhaps I can sell you some underwater real estate.
Sometimes I lightly refer to Facebook as Superficial Book. Me and about two linguists find this amusing, but it doesn’t take extended examination of the trivialities that many people write on Facebook to arrive at a similar conclusion. We can only hear about what kind booze someone is drinking or what pedestrian music they are enduring or what the weather is like in Minnesota this morning or where a pet has done its business, to get the notion that other people’s lives are even more boring than ours. Maybe that is the real appeal of Facebook. It let’s us know that no matter how mundane our existence may be, at least we aren’t alone in our ennui. We have ‘friends.’