Being ‘friends’ not the same now

The Internet makes it possible to never lose touch with even the most casual of acquaintances whether you want to or not.

That kid who sat near you in third grade mostly picking his nose? He’s about two clicks away along with that girl who wore the same outfit every day and the teacher who seemed a little too close to his underage female students.

If you know someone’s name or any sort of identifying personal information you can remain forever linked with them in the imaginary world even if you were never really that connected in the real one. Through the magic of Facebook I’m now “friends” with a number of people who barely acknowledged my existence in high school. Fortunately, this friendship involves very little actual communication and seems to serve no point other than allowing both parties to claim another Facebook friend.

I never see my new friends, don’t have to actually speak with them and in many cases I’m not actually sure I remember who they are. I may occasionally type a note to one of these people or attempt to let them know what I’m up to, but in most cases these friendships require less effort than talking Lindsay Lohan into having one more drink.

For the uninitiated who have no idea what I’m talking about, let me offer a quick primer on Facebook. A Web site that’s part phone book, part semi-exclusive club, Facebook allows you to link up (or become “friends” with) anyone you vaguely know. Becoming friends requires both sides to agree and once you are friends, you can exchange notes and access each other’s profiles.

Unfortunately, making friends on Facebook begets making even more friends. As you connect with people you only sort of know, the people who sort of know them think they might know you and pretty soon your connected with a large group of people who wouldn’t recognize you in real life.

At first this seems great as your early group of friends includes people you actually like and enjoy catching up with. For me, this has included old camp buddies, high school and college pals and a number of people I always liked, but somehow lost touch with.

As your network grows, however, you start getting friend requests from people with whom you have a pretty tenuous connection. I’ve admittedly stared at my friend requests list trying to come up with how I know someone only to discover that perhaps we went to the same school a few years apart or maybe we met once, 15 years ago through a mutual friend. These might be nice people and perhaps they remember me more than I remember them, but, having not thought about them in years, if ever, I feel no particular need to know what they’re up to now.

Facebook and other social networking sites mean that causal friendships now last forever, but real ones might be a little harder to make. Why actually connect with a person for dinner or a movie when you can write on their wall or send them a virtual flower.

Though I enjoy some of the people Facebook has brought back into my life, I’m actually pretty happy with my non-cyber friends. These folks actually have my phone number, occasionally see me in person and don’t consider sending me a text message a form of intimacy.

I am, however, a little concerned that compared to many people I have a pretty sad amount of online friends. So, I’ll consider the fact that you’re reading this a declaration of friendship, so if you hit me up on Facebook, I’ll confirm you as my friend and then we can quickly get back to not knowing who each other is.

Daniel Kline’s work appears in more than 100 papers weekly. When he is not writing, Kline serves as general manager of Time Machine Hobby, New England’s largest hobby and toy store, www.timemachinehobby.com. He can be reached at dan@notastep.com.

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