Do you ever feel like you know a little too much about a person that you don’t really know?
One look at an average person’s FB profile or a more well-known person’s Wikipedia entry will tell you when and where they were born, what schools they attended, what they studied, what they do for a living, where they traveled last year for vacation, who they’ve dated, who they’re married to, who their family members are…and not to mention what everyone else thinks about them and how they interact with each other online.
Today that thought descended every so slightly into my mind and instead of letting it be a passing thought, I held onto it, pulled it into my conscience and I pondered on it.
With social media networks abounding, I can FB or Tweet whoever I want, as frequently as I want to and about whatever subject I fancy at the moment. Unless the person actively decides to unfriend, block or report me, I have some type of “access” to these people. By making my profiles public, I also allow my life to be accessed by the world.
Maybe there aren’t any particular “problems” with this, but I’ve noticed a very glaring one that I’ve ignored for awhile: It creates an illusion that I know someone a lot better than I really do.
In fact, some of these people, I don’t know at all. I just know a lot about them. And because I know a lot about them, it creates a false impression in my mind that I have a real relationship with them. This could not be further from the truth. And it becomes very clear if and when I ever see them face to face, and our personal interaction is ultra-awkward and uncomfortable. I lose my ability to have a normal conversation with that person because I already know so much about them and it’s odd that the intimacy isn’t there when we meet in person.
My FB friend list hovers around 880 these days, depending on the day and whoever decides to friend or unfriend me. Compared to some other people, I don’t consider that to be a large number at all. I know plenty of folks who have 1,000+ friends and counting. At the same time, I know several folks who have less than 200 and prefer to keep it that way. I’ve not been vigilant about keeping my friendlist lean on FB because I simply do not care that much about it. But I have to admit, it does do a psychological number on my brain. It feels good to look at that number (and I do look at it daily, consciously and subconsciously) and it gives me some kind of strange comfort knowing that there are that many people I consider friends.
Let’s zoom in a bit. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t sit there and count up all my friends on FB and gloat over the number. I actually don’t consciously think about it for more than 2 seconds a day. But whenever I do log onto FB, there it is; it hits me on the first page and I see it in all of its multitudinous glory. I do notice when the number has changed, and for about 5 more seconds I think about who could have possibly unfriended me. Then I quickly think, who cares, and move on with the rest of my FB activities. But it does enter my realm of consciousness and it does do something to make me think something about myself and my relationships. If that number happened to drop by 50% one day, I would definitely presume that something very wrong has happened. It would hurt my pride, and probably my self-esteem. Is this starting to sound a bit ridiculous to you at all?
Let’s zoom in a little more. Of the ~880 friends that I have on FB, how many of them do I actually see on a regular basis? I would say, maybe 150 – 200. (This # is relatively high because I attend New Life Fellowship, where I see a lot of the same people on a weekly basis.) Of the, let’s say, 200 people I see regularly, how many do I speak to regularly (at least once a week)? Reduce that to about 40. Of the 40, how many really know what’s going on in my life and vice versa? Maybe 10. 10 divided by 880 is about 1%. So realistically speaking, the number of people that I have a strong relationship with is only about 1% of all the people on the friendlist. Honestly, I do not have the capacity as a human being to have the kind of relationship that I desire to have with more than 10 people. But because I interact superficially with many more people on social networking sites such as Facebook, I deceive myself into thinking that I have many, many more close relationships. In actuality, I do not.
I tend to analyze a bit more than the average person and I’m a high thinker. Not thinker in the widely accepted definition of the word (“intelligent” or “deep”, etc.), but thinker, as in, I process the world around me and make decisions based on my mind, not my feelings. (Perhaps a lot of this isn’t news to anyone out there, and it’s not even very important for you to read.) I’m also an introvert. I am energized when I am alone and do things on my own. The combination of being a thinker and an introvert makes for a very interesting dynamic in the world of social networking. I can think a lot about what people are saying, analyze it thoroughly and reply when I deem it necessary. As an introvert, I can also have just that limited interaction with people that I need without being overwhelmed by being around tons of people. There’s no pressure to be social or to say interesting things. I can turn it off when I’m done with people.
As an introvert, I also err on the side of seclusion and aloneness. But as a human being, as a person who is created for community and relationships, I also go online to feed my need for connectedness and as an antidote to my loneliness. I comment on pictures, statuses, links… I “like” up the wazoo, and I can very easily come off as a social butterfly online. However, I usually end up not meeting my need for connection very well through online portals because the connection on FB and Twitter and the like is just not very deep, personal or… real. I can do a very good job of putting up all sorts of facades online that I normally wouldn’t be able to do in person and that adds to the disjointed online experience.
That said, I’ve also been a part of many profound and thought-provoking discussions on FB, and I’ve come to know a lot more about the world, the good and the bad, that I may not have known if I wasn’t online. I’ve used FB to connect with old friends and long lost family and, to promote my musical endeavors. I’ve used it to share many thoughts that escape me throughout the day, and I’ve often been the recipient of much-needed humor and encouragement.
But I still wonder if some part of me is living a lie by seeing that 880 number and thinking my social life is in order. Because at the end of the day, my social life isn’t very important to me. True relationships are.
Now that I’ve pondered all that, I’m gonna go check to see how many followers I have on Twitter.