Against "Friendship"

Friday December 14, 2007 @ 04:40 PM (UTC)

I blame Myspace.

Probably there are 200 different rants on different topics that begin that way, but this one is mine. And it’s about contacts, the way links are forged between nodes (people) in social networks.

The first social networking site, in any way, that I used was Flickr. Flickr allows you to designate people as ‘contacts’ and watch their photos. This is explicitly one-way, and you don’t have to reciprocate or approve—nor do people who have ‘contacted’ you appear on your profile as part of your Flickr personality. While ‘contacts’ may be slightly overstating the degree of acquaintance, it is fairly serviceable. You can further designate contacts as “Friends” and/or “Family”, thus allowing them to see photos at different privacy levels. While some might benefit from a customizable privacy-level scheme, this keeps the system agile and is quite practical.

Jyte, the next social network I entered, also uses the ‘contact’ terminology, and allows you to tag your contacts to describe the relationship, which is appeallingly open-ended and a good way of differentiating people whose Jyte claims and comments you like and people with whom you exchange Festivus gifts.

So far, so good. But someone on Jyte got me into these book cataloging websites, namely goodreads. From there, I also got into LibraryThing, which sadly seems to be superior but is not getting the new membership gestalt goodreads is. LibraryThing started out with ‘watchlists’, public and private—people whose libraries you wanted to ogle. They slowly accepted the inevitable and added ‘Friends’, but kept the watchlists as well, and thus are immune to my rant.

It’s goodreads that gets to me. Every few weeks I get ‘friend requests’ from complete strangers. Sometimes they are strangers who do not seem, from their profiles, to read English, and thus can have only a desultory interest in most of my reading material. These strangers usually have upwards of 200 ‘friends’. Are they trying to ‘friend’ everyone on the site? Are they, as I peruse the existing friends of some of these gregarious hounds, trying to friend every visibly young female member of the site? Or are there some other commonalities, some legitimate reason they want the input of all these strangers on reading materials—we all put 5 stars for Pride and Prejudice, or admitted an interest in science fiction, or something? I don’t know, but these people from the planet Gregarion are not my ‘friends’. The poor word is abused enough by being beaten into the shape of a verb, and now we are trying to stretch it over the concept “a person on another continent I have collected”?

It’s a weird and slightly creepy feeling, trying to guess from someone’s profile whether they are a friend of a friend, someone I’ve met under an online moniker, or who shares my interest, or whether they’re trying to jam me in the ether jar in order to pin me on their profile. It’s not only uncomfortable, it’s a waste of my time. That’s time I could be spending hovering over the ‘send friend request’ button on Facebook, wondering if I can really, after years of separation, despite how I cherished the person, still ask them to call me by this word I still value, “Friend”.


I know nothing really of the title of this comment, but it seems appropriate. Friend as a catch all is discomfiting. But is it worse than creating a new word since not groks the distinction between acquaintance and friend? Arbitrary restriction in expression is something you’ve been used to, and then perhaps left largely behind. But is this gross distinction any worse than the self-censorship required in how you interact with people at work and the difference from how you’d react to the same people outside that?

Regarding your last statement, I’d say your friends are those with whom you feel a kinship, no matter how rarely you reaffirm it. The people you want to be in touch with when you are, and the one’s you still want to be in touch with when you’re not.

A few weeks ago I interviewed a job candidate over the phone. He didn’t do very well, so we didn’t bring him in for an in-person interview. The other day he sent me a Facebook friend request completely out of the blue.

Um, no.

dust jacket review?
another library site but it pushes reviews and putting the books “in the context of your life”

I had never seen it before today. Eenteresting.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received friend requests under the context of “Hi” or “Wanna Add me?” and just vague things from strangers I have never heard of before. My response is no, and they are too focused on moving on to the next user, to get hurt by my rejection. I only add people I have had legitimate conversations with, and with whom I actually want to get to know.

I now utilize the features, of removing friends, top friends, and following reviews on GoodReads. Top friends are the ones actually listed on your profile, and you can filter the updates you get from the rest. Also, now, with the following reviews feature, someone can see my reviews and status’s without going through the pretense of “friends”. All in all, it’s not that much of a struggle anymore.

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