In a nutshell, here is the biggest downside I can see to Facebook and other social networking programs like them: You can reconnect with anyone, anywhere, whom you want to.
It is, of course, totally appropriate that the very selling point of such sites is what makes them undesirable. After all, the same is true of e-mail, blogs, cell phones, and the Internet in general. It all boils down to this: We can engage in tricks and sleight-of-hand to protect our privacy from the random troll — like using pseudonyms for ourselves, our families, and any other identifying marks — but when you get down to it, these things make it possible for other people to find us, even people we’re completely happy never to hear from again.
Sounds cold, I know, but it’s true. We all have people we used to know, even people we used to be friends with, whom we’ve drifted away from, or (worse) whom we never felt all that close to, despite how they felt about us.
I hated high school. It’s been more than 20 years since I graduated, and in all that time I don’t recall any friendships but one that I’ve missed. There are more friendships from college that still matter, but then, I have tried to keep in touch with those people, and with the few I’ve made since then professionally and at church.
Enter social media. Will my life really be enriched because people I barely remember, or used to socialize with but never was all that close to, suddenly decide they have to add me as a friend on Facebook? I doubt it.
In some cases, they’ll have the opposite effect, by sharing things I don’t care to know, based on assumptions about a friendship we had 15 years ago; by presuming on that old relationship to remonstrate me for choices I’ve made and am making now, or for attitudes and beliefs of mine that have diverged from theirs over the years; and on and on.
Friendships die. I hate it as much as anyone else, and I still feel saddened when I think about some that have perished along the way, but it’s a fact of life. Internet technology hasn’t extended the lives of these relationships, it’s just prolonged those deaths.
All things considered, I’ve been pretty fortunate with the Internet thing so far. The only friend to track me down prior to Facebook was an ex-girlfriend from college who came across her actual name on something I had posted years ago. From there she followed a link I had forgotten existed to “The Dumping Ground,”, which she took to reading because she found many of the entries there to be humorous. (And I’m sure she had fun identifying everyone she could on the blog, since I used fake names for almost everyone and almost everything.)
I had joined the site ages ago, but I never did anything with it until this February just past. Indigo realized I was a member, and before long I had three friends as the “Lookit! I got a new friend!” virus spread across the CHR contingent. (I still find it amusing that Greg is “friends” with another David Learn here in New Jersey, presumably because he thinks that this other guy is me.)
About a week ago, an old college friend discovered I was on Facebook and contacted me. Block and I haven’t been especially close these past ten years, but that’s OK; it was good hearing from him, and I still consider him a friend, so (with some reservations because of what I suspected would come ensue), I accepted his friends request.
A few days ago Angela tried to contact me.
Now it’s Gina.
Gina wasn’t a bad person, nor was she a vortex of need like Angela, but she wasn’t someone I ever felt especially close to. I did take her part when I felt she was being treated unfairly, and I treated her well because that’s how I was raised, but when someone quipped that he could conceivably be married to her as long as there was no expectation of ever having children together, I knew exactly how he felt.
Gina also was someone who had a tremendous and wholly unreciprocated crush on me, which made the relationship somewhat awkward at times. (Like the time I was lying down on my dorm-room bed and she joined me there, for starters.) When Niki and I started dating, Gina sowed the proverbial salt in the field and ended by personal decree whatever degree of friendship we had.
And now, I have this message from her waiting in my Facebook inbox:
How are you doing? I’d “friend” you…but for some reason that option is not available for you.
I can’t begin to tell you how many people keep asking me if I know what you are up to…and despite Googling you at least twice a year, I can’t find anything recent about you.
As sinister plots to ruin my life go, this one ranks pretty low, but it does kind of put me in an awkward spot. If you asked me at any point in the past 10 years if I considered Gina a friend, I’d have said no. If you asked me if I had any particular desire to reconnect with her, my answer would have been no to that question also.
That said, I also have little desire to slight her needlessly by refusing to friend her. I’ve done a lot to guard my privacy online, but it looks like joining Facebook has exposed an opening I hadn’t fully considered.