Let me ask you all (ya’ll) a question – how many friends do you have on Facebook? How many of those people are actual friends that you know, care about “what’s on their mind”, and want to converse with? How about Twitter? Do you strive to have more followers? Do you follow everyone who follows you? How often do you get to read all the tweets in your Twitterstream?
We’ve created a monster.
Inspired by an article in the latest issued of Wired he read on the flight to LA this week, our friend Tyler just announced he had cut his Facebook friends list back from more than 2,000 to around 300 total. The article, by Clive Thompson (In Praise of Online Obscurity), analyzes the way we have turned social networking into something very unsocial. No longer are we using social networking as a means of fostering relationships with people we actually care about – we’re using it to create new relationships with people (and “reconnect” with people from our past) and quite frankly, we can’t keep up with it. We’re faced with countless hurdles to jump to maintain these relationships, weeding through updates from networking contacts we barely know, distant friends from our childhood, friends of friends and ex-boyfriends. All people who, the second you click accept, can see all your info, as well. As Thompson points out, when your list gets too big, social networking is no longer a possibility. Social networking starts to break down.
Nowadays, people use Facebook as a means to notifying their friends about developments in their life (and granted, some stuff we could care less about – “Makin’ quesadillas tonight!” – I’m guilty of that.) In the last week I found out that I missed news from two of my good friends because their updates were lost in my enormous feed. One of my friends adopted a rescue puppy and the other one got engaged. Both are things I actually would have liked to know, but because of all the noise in my feed, I didn’t.
So what was the result of Tyler’s massacre on his friends list? A list of status updates that he – SHOCK! – actually cares about. Imagine truly wanting to read each and every status update on your list, instead of clicking “Hide” on that person you added, but only because you had 30 friends in common, all of whom are people you met at conferences. Imagine not having to worry that you’re missing something important, funny or interesting because your feed is filled with information and people that honestly, you could care less about.
Of course, this is just my opinion.
Thompson emphasizes the value in obscurity – of keeping your network small and manageable, because once it grows to a certain size, the conversation dissipates. It becomes silent. Mark Zuckerberg famously declared at the recent Crunchie Awards that living publicly and having minimal online privacy is “the social norm, now.” I disagree. Living a public life is not something everyone should be obligated to do, just because they want to use social networking to keep in touch with friends. Now, online privacy is an entirely separate issue as far as I’m concerned (albeit a very, very important one, I have quite a bit to say about this what with having my identity stolen online several times). But aside from the security aspect, I can’t help but agree with Thompson’s stance on online obscurity – how on Earth are we expected to keep up genuine relationships with 3,000 of our closest friends? It’s just not possible. Not unless you give up your job, your family, your hobbies, eating and sleeping. And then what would you have left to talk about, anyway?
In a way, it’s just like high school again – one big popularity contest. So many people striving to be the next Gary Vaynerchuk, the next “online celeb” who millions turn to for entertainment and advice. First of all, this isn’t realistic. That kind of fame is just not feasible for most of us. And whatever happened to good old human relationships – conversations – not soapboxing?
I’m not suggesting everyone go on an “unfriend-ing” rampage or to stop trying to gain followers, I suppose it depends on the purpose of that particular network, but I do think that if you plan on using social networking as a tool to strengthening relationships, you might want to scale back or segregate your relationships by dividing them on different networks (LinkedIn, for example). I know many are of the opinion that in order to create a successful business relationship, you have to first start with a personal relationship, and to some extent, I agree. But you’ve got to make it genuine. Adding me as one of your 7,000 friends on Facebook does not make me feel like I am getting in a close, personal, trusting relationship with you to where I would ever want to enter a business partnership with you. The same way I would feel if I were one of 300 people invited to your birthday party and only had 5 minutes to celebrate with you.
By the way – I realize this might sound a bit hypocritical because I have this blog and a handful of fans, but in no way do I tout myself as a “guru” of any kind or someone that people should “turn to for advice.” I’m nobody. Just a random girl with a poorly written, stream-of-conscience blog and a need to share pretty, interesting things. I have no goals in terms of popularity or fame. This concept of scaling back on social networking just resonated with me, perhaps because of my own struggle to maintain intimate relationships these days via social networking. So – I ask of you…
What’s your method when it comes to managing your online social scene? Do you have rules for adding new friends? Do you only use certain networks for certain things? I’m very curious to find out!