In a column published in InformationWeek, blogger/journalist/sf novelist Cory Doctorow argues that as Facebook becomes more popular, it becomes much more useless. The very ubiquity of it devalues the power of social networking.
“For every long-lost chum who reaches out to me on Facebook, there’s a guy who beat me up on a weekly basis through the whole seventh grade but now wants to be my buddy,” he writes, “or the crazy person who was fun in college but is now kind of sad; or the creepy ex-co-worker who I’d cross the street to avoid but who now wants to know, ‘Am I your friend?’ yes or no, this instant, please.”
Doctorow notes that as social networks become more popular, another one springs up for new users to flock to. First there was friendster, and then the users migrated to Myspace, and now they’re leaving Myspace in droves to sign up for Facebook. If his argument is to be believed, then at some point, Facebook will become too crowded — standing room only — and we will need to move on to some other outlet in order for our social networking to become more efficient.
It was only a few hours after I finished reading the column that I realized how true his argument was.
I logged into my email account and was dismayed to see that I had an email from Facebook telling me I had been invited to an “event.” The event was a production put on by a gay and lesbian group at the university from which I graduated in 2006. The person who sent me the invitation (she shall remain nameless) was a friend of a former roommate of mine. She and I had exchanged small talk at a few parties, and at some point one of us had friended the other. But I wouldn’t consider her a “friend” in the real world, and I certainly haven’t communicated with her since I’ve stopped living with that former roommate.
This hasn’t stopped her from spamming me on multiple occasions with invitations to events, usually put on by the before-mentioned gay and lesbian group. It’s very obvious that she merely sends the same invitation to every person on her friendslist. At first, I reacted to these invitations with indifference, clicking on the “not attending” button and then moving on with my life. By about the third time, I began to get annoyed — mainly because Facebook, in its quest to suck in page views, makes you log in to the site just to reject an invitation (it’s like you’re getting double-spammed–once in email, then once in Facebook).
By the time I logged in today, that annoyance had turned into outright anger. “Who the hell does she think she is?” I thought. “Does she have no respect for the people who were nice enough to have friended her? Is she so egotistical that she feels that she has the privilege of spamming every Dick and Jane she knows?”
It was at this point that I realized that this person really had no social value to me at all — in fact she had a negative social value. In this particular instance, social networking was a detriment; a “friend” had betrayed my trust and stepped over the line.
With this realization, I did what I have rarely done before: I removed her from my friendslist.
She will not be the last. I feel like I’ve somehow broken the floodgates. And there’s this other guy I had “friended” in college who I only knew because I had seen him at a few parties and we happened to share a class. Though I no longer live in my college town, I still get regular invites to parties he and his roommates (as a side note, why the hell hasn’t he graduated?) are throwing. With this newfound freedom on my part, he’ll be promptly deleted from my list the next time I find a piece of spam from him in my inbox.
When will this mass deletion stop? With the introduction of facebook apps, this may only be the beginning. How many times do I need to get superpoked before you’re in the deletion bin? There’s only one way to find out.
I’ll end this post with an anecdote: During my senior year in college, I met several freshman who said they had over 100 facebook friends from the university before their first day of school. That’s right, these incoming freshman would go on facebook and maniacally friend every halfway-attractive person, accumulating a mass of useless social networks that would merely cloud their newsfeeds.
Tell me: If you’ve friended 500 people you’ve never met, never corresponded with, or never intend to talk to, then what does that tell you about your real-life, face-to-face social networking?
It tells me that you’re about as shallow as they come.
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