Oh look! I’m having a friendversary today. How thoughtful of Facebook to remember that special day three years ago when Blanche and I officially became friends on their site. Now…who’s Blanche again?
You understand. The average Facebook user has 338 friends, and many have far more than that. How can we possibly know them all? Facebook brings to mind that old adage, “There are no strangers here, only friends you have not met yet.”
The saying is credited to the poet William Butler Yeats, who, as you know, was a big fan of Facebook. Unfortunately, he died in 1939, just as it was really taking off.
I’m joking! It only seems like it’s been around that long. In its short life, Facebook has not only replaced solitaire as the most common way to avoid doing actual work on the computer, it’s also created a whole new meaning for the word “friend.” For one thing, here in the real world, friend is a noun. On Facebook it’s also a verb. People friend you; then they unfriend you—sort of like in elementary school.
In the real world, they say a good friend will help you move, but a true friend will help you move a body. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the vast majority of my Facebook friends wouldn’t help me with either, and especially the latter. Of course, if I’m ever in a position to need that kind of help, I probably shouldn’t mention it on Facebook.
Real friends watch your house when you travel and pick you up at the airport when you get back. Blanche may or may not do that for me, but I think she’d be really surprised if I asked her to.
In the real world, a friend is someone you can tell your deepest thoughts to, trusting they won’t tell a million other people. On Facebook, you go ahead and tell a million other people yourself, and your friends sit by and do nothing to stop you.
In the real world, you never sit down to dinner with friends and start right in discussing politics unless you’re pretty sure they agree with you. I have a few Facebook friends whose political posts make me think of a matador waving a red flag at a bullfight.
Real friends share everything from gossip to French fries off each other’s plates. I suppose it’s possible I might recognize Blanche if I ever run into her at a restaurant. But even if I walk over to her table and say, “Hi Blanche. I really love your cat video posts,” I bet she won’t offer me a French fry.
Facebook friends do share though. Boy do they share. The husband of a woman I know posted photos of her giving birth. For the child’s sake, I hope they’re still married.
And often one of my friends posts something that makes me hope for his sake he won’t be looking for a new job soon.
Lately I’ve seen a rash of photos of, well, rashes on Facebook. Also sores and open wounds. Blanche recently shared a photo of her stitches. A picture is worth a thousand words, but in this case, three would have been sufficient: “I have stitches.”
None of this is to say I don’t enjoy my Facebook friends. I know some very interesting people there, though “know” might be too strong a word. I have friends who travel, run marathons, and create beautiful things. My Facebook friends enjoy their lives, or at least they say they do.
But, sometimes after I spend too much time on Facebook I feel painfully inadequate and like I should call a friend. A real one.
(Dorothy Rosby is the author of several humor books, including I Used to Think I Was Not That Bad and Then I Got to Know Me Better. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)