Too many Facebook friends?

I awoke to today, as I awake to every day: The radio crackling to life and the news broadcast. A lot of people like buzzers, even more prefer music, and I’m sure everyone likes waking up naturally with diffuse sunlight and slow stretches, but most days I like the news. It gets me involved in the day straight away, and it immediately robs me of whatever feeling of wonder and immortality I had gained from my dreams of adventure. This might sound crazy, but hey, I own my weirdness.

Today part of the news was about the recent study by University of Edinburgh Business School. It’s reasonably interesting and makes quite a lot of sense. Basically, if you have to manage networks of friends, that become mixed, it’s a headache. (Worst summary ever, go read the article).

Later in the day, while driving home, I was listening to the radio again, and again the subject was Facebook friends. Essentially they spoke about what number was too many, and who really has so many friends. A listener text in, proudly stating that they had 200 friends the night before, and deleted 135 of them, because they’d never met. The presenter went on to ask “Can you really have 65 friends?”

These people do not understand social networking.

A social network is an online meeting place. An opportunity to talk to people you might never get to meet in person. A chance to engage with them, and others. A place to share ideas, thoughts, along with the beautiful and ugly things in the world.

It is not exclusively a “friends” only place. Because it’s not a place, it’s a method for getting in touch.

Last night I sent a message to a Facebook friend, a guy I’ve only met properly once, at my birthday, so that doesn’t even count as a proper meeting. I asked him for advice about something, we chatted, and followed up a little today.

About an hour ago I posted a link to a music video (Reckless by You Me At Six – I love this). It was ‘liked’ and commented on by a younger cousin of mine, and we had a small exchange. We see each other only rarely, too rarely if I’m honest. I have a car, I could try harder.

These are just two examples of people I don’t get to see in person all the time. People who I like, and with whom I can only really maintain reasonable contact through a service like Facebook. (And no, calls/texting doesn’t count. That costs money). On any given day I chat to at least four different people on Facebook, almost all of them are people I don’t get to see all too often. These chats might be one or two lines, or they might be in-depth conversations. Either way, they count, they matter, they’re important. Not in the grand-scale-of-the-universe kind of way, but in the maintaining-my-own-sanity way.

I wouldn’t give that up for anything. I wouldn’t remove two thirds of my friends list because I’ve never met them, I’d make it my business to say hi to these people and find come common ground upon which to build a friendly relationship. It’s a narrow minded and ignorant person that opens the door to a relationship (accepting the friend request) and then snaps it shut because of what can only be described as laziness.

What then about Twitter? A social network that is pretty much designed to connect people who have never met, and likely will never meet.

I have one story from Twitter: Recently, I guy who follows me, and who I follow in return, posted a photo of three beautiful posters. One of these was a Blade Runner piece, and we got talking about the movie, discovering it was, for both of us, a favourite. A few days later I brought it up to him again, asking where I could get it. In a nutshell: he told me it was his own design and that he would send me the pdf, and that he’d be honoured for me to hang it on my wall, even suggesting where to get a nice frame. My reply was one of delight, and also to tell them that it would be I who was honoured to hang up his work.

What’s important about this is that he and I have never met person. I might even walk past him without realising who he was, were we to be in the same place. And yet a social network has allowed two people to have a nice conversation, realise some common ground, and put a smile on my face.

So what am I trying to say with all this? If you’re on Facebook or Twitter, don’t take a scythe to your friend/follow count because of an idea that a number is too high. Engage with people a little bit, see where it gets you. You might make a new friend, you might laugh, you might fall in love, it’s worth a chance.

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