Because life is a series of edits

Is the Unexamined Friend Not Worth Friending?

In Friends, Internet, Technology, Thought on October 26, 2008 at 8:37 pm

About six months ago, I reached the point where the people whom Facebook thought I might know were ones I didn’t. This bothered me then, and still does now.

According to Facebook, I have 369 “friends.” Yes, yes, I know most of these people, but I only really know a handful of them. My overall list ranges from old high school classmates to high school students I now have in class; in between are a few friends from college, several others from years in Colorado, a bunch of seminary folks, a few acquaintances from church, and various and sundry individuals who I’ve never met but still felt guilty about not “approving” them when their friend request came in.

One could call it “forced friendship” – like what a shotgun wedding must feel like (minus any responsibility and, well, the shotgun) – but it’s really neither (forced or friendship). The sooner we come to understand this, the better we might realize that we are the ones to blame for our superficial idea of what being a friend means.

I used to not approve requests from people I didn’t know – at least not without a quick message back asking how we knew each other. I stopped doing this as it seemed too snobbish, but I’m not sure the alternative has any more integrity. Is it better to seem accessible to people you have no reason or plan to engage with, or do you say “thanks, but no thanks” on the front end, perhaps coming off a little precocious at the beginning, but at least authentic to actual reality?

For most of us, our teleology tends to have everything to do with the value of Facebook (or any other social network on the Internet, for that matter), but it seems there should be a more humanity-valuing principle and approach to the dilemma than just a utilitarian/egoistic tendency regarding it. Where’s Socrates when we need him?

What would Jesus do? Would Jesus accept all Facebook friend requests, or would he only accept ones from those he chose? The analogy breaks down from a theological perspective (at least from a Calvinist systematic), as only those whom Jesus initially chose would choose to add him as a friend anyway, so never mind.

Forget the question of stealing bread to feed your family; never mind the ethical intricacies of mercy killing and war. To accept Facebook friend requests or not – and then whether to secretly “unfriend” later – this is what this ethics teacher wonders.

(Note: For another take on the topic, try “The Facebook Commandments” at Slate).

  1. the easiest solution here is to just quit facebook. i don’t miss it at all. i know most people won’t make the same choice but it’s been great for me in a multitude of ways.

  2. Indeed, Travis, but I’m still at the philosophical stage of the conundrum. Give me time.

    Anyone else want to weigh in with a thought?

  3. I’ve ignored quite a few friend requests of late. If I have to break out the yearbook to figure out who you are, you’re not a friend. A tiny part of me feels bad when I hit that “ignore” button, but I really only want to use Facebook to keep up with people I actually know and like, or want to know and like. Snobbish? Probably. I consider it more self-editing, just as I would books or TV.

  4. *Can* you secretly “unfriend”? … I’ve noticed a few people pop up on the left sidebar that I thought, “I am *never* going to interact with this person,” mainly facebook-befriended back in those early days when I thought perhaps facebook could be my key to taking over the planet. (Later, I realized that perhaps having clean underwear and other sundry laundry items on hand was a better way to approach world domination….). But I thought perhaps “unfriending” someone would prompt an e-mail or facebook notification on their profile home, which seemed like a rude way to end things. Hmm.

    I vote for the “less is more” friend philosophy. I’ve only ignored a few requests along the way, and I have a few that are pending “official” ignore status (one guy has a name that sounds like a rude name for one’s backside, so I’m pretty sure it’s a joke profile… *yet*… we *do* have 12 “friends” in common…).

    If I were starting from scratch, I would befriend just the people I know, even if it’s just in that Christmas card exchange kind of way. Notwithstanding Travis’ perfectly fine reasons for quitting, I like being on facebook. It’s given me an opportunity to reconnect with people I knew “back in the day” and given me a chance to deepen friendships and cement acquaintanceships… e.g., seminary and church community members.

    And I would ignore all those requests and invitations that show up on the right sidebar… the quizzes, ninja-pirate fights, etc.

    So there.

  5. before i decided to quit outright i had thought of different ways to trim down my “friend” list to a more realistic level. one idea i had was going through the list and removing everyone i had never enjoyed a meal or a conversation lasting at least 30 minutes with. it wouldn’t have been 100% accurate but it would have whittled the list down to a point where there’d be a much higher percentage of folks on it who were actually friends. just a thought.

  6. Glad to hear we’d still make your friend cut, Travis (that is, if you still had a facebook account). Having said that, it’s been far too long since our families have shared a meal together. We need to do that again soon!

  7. sounds good. just a warning though, things are a bit crazy with us right now so scheduling may be a bit of a pain but let’s still try to find a date.

  8. i’ve wrestled with this as well: does a social utility like facebook enhance interactions with my existing network (however broadly i want to define that) or does facebook become my social network, not just a utility? in general, i subscribe to the former. but being that my job is in social media & utilities like facebook are the new rolodex, it’s tough to turn people away.

    a study came out last week that suggested younger users tend to use facebook as an entry point for friendship whereas an adult’s friend list mirrors real world relationships. i find myself in the latter category, though my friend list includes folks i wouldn’t normally think of contacting, but since their information is fed to me without any effort on my part, i enjoy reading about their lives. this says more about the state of “friendship” in our culture than the utilities that enable them.

  9. part of my job right now is social networking, a big part actually, and I use it unabashedly for that purpose. i troll through friends list of friends (sounds bad but oh well) for people they’ve introduced me to for the chance to get a face to face, 30 min+ or meal meeting like Travis’ benchmark. I need a big list of people to work through as potential contacts so I can find people that are interested in buying my product. What am I selling? Well product and selling are not the right terms but facebook has been a very useful ministry tool for starting a new church of Jesus Christ. How’s that for facebook righteousness? Maybe when Travis gets to New Zealand he’ll change his mind.

  10. maybe rob, maybe. but i don’t think so.

  11. i usually don’t respond but I feel pretty strongly about this- I think there is a huge difference between interactions with people (who are made in the image of God) and interactions with objects like books or TV. I think there is something amazing about the fact that people want to be connected. I don’t have the ability to see the future about what those connections or friend requests may bring. When someone requests to add you, he or she has stepped out to make that connection and you have no idea why sometimes. To ignore that, seems to me, to be as if I have run in to someone in public and refused to say hi because I am too busy or it won’t lead anywhere significant. I have been surprised at some of the reconnections that I would not have predicted would amount to anything and I have loved being able to keep up with my dearest of friends and the pictures from their lives. ok- sorry so long! good question- love reading your thoughts.

  12. I’ve come to enjoy and even appreciate Facebook and I see nothing wrong with its networking capabilities. I find it refreshing to be able to do a one-message re-connect with my former junior high Sunday School teacher (now overseas as a missionary) without assuming that we need any more communication than that. With old high school classmates, some I hardly knew back then, I see Facebook as a replacement for that odd interaction one is bound to experience in the grocery store or during a football game: Do we *know* each other? After you’ve friended on another on Facebook, you’ve acknowledged each other and can now have an honest conversation. There are tons of friends on Facebook that I am barely connected with… but you never know when those small connections may be helpful. And I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m fine with leaving those connections “small” for the time being. I have plenty of people I’m responsible to apart from Facebook.

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