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Facebook friends, not friends

The time was late, my eyes were bleary, and after a long day of studying I was sitting at my desk staring at Facebook. It was the middle of finals week, so other than a few brief forays from my room to eat, social interaction over the past few days had been basically nonexistent. As I scrolled through various statuses (most of which were humble-bragging or expressing some form of cliché political outrage), something snapped. What snapped? I don’t know. What I do know is that my mouse clicked the “deactivate” button, and for a brief moment I thought I’d finally mustered up the courage to delete my pixelated existence forever.

For a second I felt awed. I felt vindicated. I felt… well… free.

What happened next is depressing because it reveals my cowardice. After clicking “deactivate,” Facebook asked whether I truly wanted to delete my account. “Your 1,260 friends will no longer be able to keep in touch with you,” it said. This is Zuckerbergish for, “You’ll become a huge loser if you quit.”

My first thought was that this was absolute nonsense. I don’t have 1,260 friends in real life; I interact with a core group of 10 to 15 (absolutely awesome) people. And besides, in reality I can see all those people whenever I want.

But then I realized this isn’t completely true. I can’t talk to the vast majority of my Facebook friends in real life, often because of physical or even national boundaries (as is the case with my family in Lebanon), so deleting Facebook would mean losing touch with some people. What’s more, deleting myself from Facebook would mean I would be deleting myself from the social consciousness of hundreds of friends (more accurately, “friends”). The final nail in the coffin of my brief foray from Zuckerbergia was the anxiety-provoking thought. “If I delete myself, won’t a lot of friends assume I blocked them?” That did it. I decided to remain on Facebook.

Since then I’ve been trying to decide what snapped that day. Honestly, I don’t entirely know. I suspect I was growing tired of the endless stream of humble-bragging and shallow political statuses (I’m especially guilty of the latter).

Yet, the larger reason is more complicated. I think I’d realized that rather than my “friends” being friends first and Facebook friends second, this dynamic had flipped; the majority of my 1,260 “friends” were Facebook friends first and friends second. Most of our interactions took place on Facebook, and seeing each other in real life could, quite honestly, become pretty awkward. While on Facebook we could maintain the comfortable illusion that we knew each other, in real life we understood the truth: We may have been messaging and so on—certainly we liked each other, judging by all the “likes” we threw about—but did we know each other? Not even a little bit.

“Of course you did!” some people (let’s call them Facebook apologists) might argue. “What’s more, you had the purest form of communication one can have—mind to mind.”

This is not true. We did not know each other for who we truly were, with all our quirks and passions and flaws and manners of speech. No, we knew our idealized selves—our Facebook selves. That was what made interacting in real life so incredibly awkward. Although we were supposed to know each other, we really didn’t know the least bit about each other. What we did know of one another was filtered, watered down and presented in a neat little package—not unlike that of a political candidate at a national convention.

This isn’t to say that Facebook has no benefits, but a part of me does yearn for a (dimly remembered) time when we were more than the sum of our Facebook profiles’ parts, when there was more of an element of mystery to other people. A part of me still believes that Facebook friends should be friends first, Facebook friends second—that if they are Facebook friends first then they really aren’t friends at all.

It sounds hypocritical, but despite what I’ve written above I will not be deleting Facebook. The prospect is still daunting. There are messages to write and statuses to read, and perhaps I need Facebook so I don’t feel lonely during that next finals week when I’m studying like a madman in my room. However, I will try (and probably fail) to limit my Facebook time to five minutes a day.

Edit: One day out from the first draft of this column, I’ve failed. Perhaps you will succeed—just don’t share this column on Facebook.

Mike Shammas is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Wednesday.

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