Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Facebook and Friendship

Reihan Salam has an interesting piece on Facebook etiquette which I have been wanting to write about since I had an account started on my behalf a mere month ago. One of the fascinating items that I have come across is the penchant for nearly total strangers to "Facebook" me. Most of these people see that we have a couple of friends in common (in this instance it is typically my brother and my sister-in-law), and feel either compelled or obligated to add me as one of their friends.

Some people I am genuinely glad made first contact, as I would not have remembered to look for them, and this originally didn't pose a problem. Now though, I have found that these serial frienders tend to update their Facebook page with great regularity, and it begins to create a spamming effect on the area which updates happenings with my real friends.

Salam notes that the two best options when faced with this particular dilemma are to ignore the request (literally, not the action button 'Ignore' which essentially stamps 'DENIED' across their request) and hope the person doesn't notice, or to accept and delete at a later date (apparently the deleting of a friend is less intrusive and does not send the notification as does every other actionable item in Facebook).

What does this say about the nature of friendship as we move through the 21st century? Up until now friendship and community were commonly defined geographically first (as most friendship required some degree of face-to-face interaction), and direct communication second (for those long distance relationships that were kept strong through voice or written communication despite geographic limitations). Does the fact that I can now catch up with old friends and total strangers on a whim make the institution of friendship stronger, or does the fact that I am able to speak with a group of people whose relationships I had previously allowed to lie fallow dilute the meaning of the term altogether?