Sarah Houghton-Jan from LibrarianInBlack started a discussion recently with her thoughtful Sarah’s social network presences, and the dilution of thereof post. Houghton-Jan writes about how time consuming these spaces are and about the guilt that they may cause. My favorite part of this post is the following:
It begs the question—what’s the point? Is it a status thing to have lots of friends? Or particular friends? Am I more important because Stephen Abram is my friend on these networks? Am I the only one feeling the weight and noticing the dilution of our social networks? Something tells me I’m not the only one.
Meredith Farkas continues this discussion at Information Wants To Be Free with a post titled, Couldn’t have said it better . . .. Farkas asks
I’m curious about how other people deal with this. Do you add everyone who adds you regardless of whether or not you know them? Do you add people you don’t know? If someone doesn’t add you, does it hurt your feelings? Do you think the term “friend” in these social networks has meaning if you add people you don’t know at all?
There are some great comments on this post – all worth reading with people offering some varying viewpoints.
The whole friend thing is very strange. Friending people is obviously a large part of many social networks. Due to my rather introverted nature, I’m not one to send friend requests – in fact, I think that I have only invited 3 or 4 people to be my friend. On the other hand, I have had a good number of requests for friendship by others. So far, I have accepted every request – not feeling as if I had any valid reason for saying no. However, I will admit that I have wondered on several occasions who some of these people were – and why they were asking me to be their friend. On some networks – like Ning – the concept of friendship doesn’t appear to add any significant value to the whole experience.
So, what is friendship for? What does it actually mean? When is it appropriate to send a friend request? Should you give someone a reason when you ask them to be your friend? What does it mean to be friends with someone? What are people’s expectations for the relationship? Am I more important than you if I have more friends than you do? More importantly, do I have to do anything to nurture the relationship if I say yes to your friend request?
Obviously, the use of the term “friend” is part of the problem. In one of the comments on Meredith Farkas’ post, Phil Bradley writes that he has “done a mental global delete with ‘friend’ and replaced with ‘potential contact’.” This makes a great deal of sense to me. I generally don’t use any social networks to keep in touch with my real friends – all of my online presences are related to my professional interests or my school experience. I think that I may well follow Bradley’s lead on this one. Viewing friends as potential contacts helps me to understand why others may have asked me to be their friends – and makes guilt less of a problem overall.
On the whole, I’m at the point where I find social networks very tiring. They are high maintenance and incredibly time consuming. I’m not saying that this negates their value. I’m just saying that I have already become apathetic to many of the social networks that I have joined. In some cases, there is so much going on that if I do not log in several times a day, I feel like I’ve missed so much. I don’t think -ok, I know that I have the time to keep up with them. RSS feeds help – and this is how I read stay current with what is going on with many sites. However, using RSS feeds somewhat defeats the purpose of many networking sites.
So really, I have no idea if you are my friend or if I am yours. I have no idea of what it all really means, but I will continue to accept all friend requests. I’m not sure how big of a part I will ever play in social networking sites. I suppose that I will get more comfortable with them over time. I need to be better at networking all around, so I suppose I’ll just have to put more effort into it.