This is not my obsession with semantics but a mere observation based on experiences. I have been on Facebook for a number of years and like many others have gone through a whirlwind romance with Facebook which at the best of times has been a love-hate relationship that has now been on the rocks for a while now. Facebook has clearly changed what we mean by friends. A friend on Facebook could be someone you have had very fleeting contact with or even none with. And to realign our expectations, we need to understand this.
As I glance at my friends’ list, I realize that almost 60%-70% are those I have only met virtually or have met them socially maybe once or twice. That means that we actually know each other through our social updates or blogs and in essence very little. We actually have had negligible real-world contact. We haven’t grown in a relationship where we have understood each other’s flaws and good qualities and accepted them. We gravitated towards each other because we may have enjoyed something we wrote or an update or article we shared or interacted in one of the FB groups. As trivial as that may sound, this is the reason why we friend someone on Facebook these days; sometimes only because they may have a bunch of mutual friends.
I have had a few unsavory incidents with ‘friends’ on Facebook that led me to some introspection. Facebook for one is much more personal than say twitter. On twitter everything is public hence in a way when I post on twitter, I am conscious of the fact that anyone, anywhere can read it. But on Facebook, you have the option of not interacting with the public at large. Hence you have your friends, a cozy cocoon where you feel free to showcase your best and your worst. Therein, lies the problem. Many times the banter, craziness and strong opinions can really rub people the wrong way, the people who don’t really know the complete you.
The honeymoon period lasts for as long as we continue to like and support each other’s updates/points of view. We hit a bad patch when we actually share or opine on something that may not go down well with the thoughts of others. I have seen pitched battles unfold on comments on status updates. Sometimes complete strangers go after each other with a hatred which would be almost impossible to comprehend in real life. Does the anonymity make us lose control or make us callous? Are we all forgetting our good manners because we have a tool that lets us put out anything we wish to? And then there is the problem of the ‘sane’ voices – the politically correct ones, those who want to be seen saying the right things. This is what drives many of us. We actually believe that our voice/view is sane and must be told while the others are obviously ‘insane’ or the word of the season — intolerant. Hence personal equations increasingly spiral downwards as we go after each other. We see someone we liked show their weird side and things start heading downhill. Initial discomfort may lead to dislike and then aversion. Unfollow option is wielded, sometimes Restricting or even unfriending and as I had to do for one person, blocking too.
Let’s face it. We are adults with fragile egos and loud mouths. While we talk of respecting freedom of speech or expression, it is in reality only restricted to our own views. And that is where the actual problem lies. Our egos are huge and since we were never really connected beyond the superficial, it is not difficult to unfriend and move on. Of course, that is not to say that it does not hurt. Of course, we smart when we see someone going berserk with rude comments or behind our backs to friends. But, I guess it is all part of belonging to the circus called social media and we do get over it. The crux of the matter is that we actually have expectations that we have from ‘real’ friends and are disappointed when those are not fulfilled. Things like being supported, liked and respected are on top of the list.
Suddenly grappling with questions and my own lack of judgment about people I was naïve enough to trust and share my life with, I feel an aversion to the medium and how it is capable of playing havoc with my emotions. Of course, a handful of people who are my friends, real friends (some of them I haven’t yet met), I can see that I am quite understanding and patient with. Even a difference of opinion is shrugged off because there is a real bond, real affection there. But this number is really low.
A little late in the day, I have realized not to have too many expectations or to sort of lay claim to people who perhaps are just being nice to me virtually. I am aware that it does not take long for that nicety to turn into something unpleasant. With this understanding, I am now very careful before adding people to my friends’ list.
It is the classic, many times bitten now shy syndrome.
And also knowing that on Facebook we don’t have many friends but acquaintances we enjoy talking to and engaging with on a warm, sunny day. The bitter, cold times are when we turn to our real friends and family as we should.
Do share your experience with Facebook friends in the comments.
Pic courtesy: Master isolated images at Freedigitalphotos.net.