Random Thoughts on Facebook, part two

One of the oddest phenomena on Facebook is when someone asks you to be their friend after a long period of time in which you have little contact with them, and they don't even make small talk. It's one thing to reconnect and catch up on the years since your last contact. It's another to simply send a sterile friend request without so much as a "Hey, what are you up to these days?"

This behavior is common and acceptable with people who you are already in contact with, or were recently in regular contact with. So I suppose the implication with a long lost acquaintance is the same: "We were and still are buds". The only problem is that it often isn't true.

For example, I was recently Facebook-friended by a guy I worked with for one year back in 2004 and then never talked to afterward. He's not a guy I socialized with outside work, and I only knew him based on "water-cooler talk". I knew he was married, had recently (at that time) had twins, and liked to brag about his Porche that I never found out how he afforded.

Since then, I've heard from friends of friends of his that his wife tragically died of breast cancer at a very young age, but I don't know anything else about him. So he sends me a friend request without any attached message of "Hi, how are you?" I don't know anything else about him: where he lives, who he works for, if he's still driving the Porche, etc. I obviously can't send condolences about his wife since he hasn't broached the topic (or any topic). So what did I do? I accepted the request; at the very least, he could help me find work in the future if need be.

Does anyone else find this behavior strange? It's one example of established Facebook norms that don't make much sense to me.

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Grade school...

Agreed. I'll get an occasional request to connect with someone whose name I vaguely remember from grade school, but haven't had regular contact with for over a decade. And I didn't really like them much back then.

Usually, unless I flat have no recollection of their existence whatsoever, I'll accept the request. But that's just to not be rude.

One strange thing about Facebook... Some people get WAY too concerned with the quantity of friends rather than the quality. They're letting Facebook drive them, rather than the other way around.

Seriously, what are you

Seriously, what are you doing on Facebook? Friend of mine recently sent me a pic of an old college flame from Facebook and frankly, it felt creepy and voyeuristic to be looking at it. Facebook is full of oddities like what you describe, which is why I find the whole site to be a somewhat defiling experience. Let us know when you make of the "poke" feature...

works for me

I'm an introvert, I don't do smalltalk. All this seems perfectly normal to me. The whole point of facebook for me is being able to have marginal social awareness of people's lives without actually having to talk to them.

<People From The Past>

Haha - nice

Haha - nice

Give him the benefit of the doubt

It's possible you were recommended to him by facebook itself, which doesn't refute your main point, but does somewhat undermine his culpability as "that guy from years back who I guess needs a friend real bad."

I wasn't implying that he needed a friend real bad

He was socially pretty normal from what I remember. What I found strange was the lack of any exchange of messages between us upon friending.

Contrast this to another guy from college who I recently re-connected with and friended. He sent me a message about his whereabouts and asked what I'm up to, etc. I friended him and then we exchanged 3-4 messages about jobs, family, etc. We're going to meet up for a football game this year.

The sterility is exactly what I like

I'll second Noah A. Yetter. For me, the fact that I can use Facebook to acknowledge and be acknowledged by old acquaintances without getting drawn into some inane conversation is its best feature.

Norms are not abnormal

Does anyone else find this behavior strange? It's one example of established Facebook norms that don't make much sense to me.

Something is strange if it deviates greatly from the norm. So how can what you recognize as a norm seem strange to you?

My guess is that you are interpreting Facebook actions on the basis of the real-world analogs that are suggested by the names (e.g. "friending"). The word "friend" suggests a certain real-world analog, implying a certain personal closeness, making a "friending" of a non-friend seem strange. An act of linking is by extension being viewed as analogous to a face to face encounter, during which it is normal to exchange brief histories - hence the strangeness of a silent friend request.

But a closer relation to facebook may be an Internet message board, such as Usenet or such as one of the many message boards that have arisen since. On Usenet you can see what everyone writes and everyone can see what you write. Facebook gives you the possibility of controlling your audience and simultaneously controlling whose output you end up reading. Some people may want tight control over their audience, but other people may want an experience some ways along the spectrum in the direction of Usenet or Blogger - they may be far less concerned about who gets to see and be more comfortable with a wider audience. At the extreme, a musician might opt to maintain a facebook account that automatically friends anyone who asks - his fans - and may be interested in facebook not for its controls over audience but for some of its other features. Looked at in this light, the linking of accounts is potentially much less personal, just as the relationship between any author and his audience is not especially personal.

And there are many possibilities in between the very impersonal and the very personal.

Even given all this, you may still see no potential value in having a link to this non-friend of yours. It may even be a bother, filling up your facebook home page with things you are not interested in reading. I don't actually know facebook well enough to know what sort of fine-tuning control you have over the degree to which your various "facebook friends" are able to affect your experience of facebook.

Also, what seems normal to do is a product of what people actually do, and what people actually do is a product of what they are able to do. Facebook gives people the ability to do certain things which they did not have the ability to do before (else why bother with Facebook), so people are likely to start doing things they didn't do before, and these new things are liable to seem weird since, previously, they weren't done. This may be a situation where the young have an intrinsic advantage, because they aren't burdened with an obsolete set of expectations about what is normal. Rob mentions voyeurism, but the easier it becomes to see what everyone in your yearbook is currently up to, the more people are going to do it, and the less that activity will be dominated by and associated with people with an unhealthy interest in the lives of strangers. A real-world stalker is a probable threat, whereas someone who, because it is so incredibly easy to learn stuff about you, learns as much about you as a stalker would in bygone days, is not a probable threat.

Hey, if you didn't want to

Hey, if you didn't want to add me, you didn't have too. Now you've hurt my feelings, I thought there was something between us. Don't you remember those sweet conversations by the water-cooler? I would show you pictures of my twins and wife, letting you know subtly of the hole in my life, trying to help you see past the mask of the married man. Remember how I would always invite you to take a ride in my Porsche? Since I'm single again, I've been trying to approach you, but you just shut the door on me. You're a bad person.

Quit it Arthur.

Quit it Arthur.



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