I’m not on Facebook. I may or may not have once started an account with the intention of putting up a page someday as research for this column. But I haven’t visited since, seeing as I don’t need to hear one more giant sucking noise in the soundtrack of my already jammed life.
Yet I keep getting friended. I keep getting messages in my personal e-mail inbox telling me someone I may or may not know has just declared me a friend.
This happens frequently on other networking sites where I may or may not have opened an account, again for the purposes of research (this is also how I explain the numerous sushi lunches that keep showing up on my expense report). It goes without saying that I am frequently asked, as a trusted person in your network, to connect on the professional networking site LinkedIn.
While LinkedIn requires my permission before we hook up, other sites aren’t so decorous. I just got a note saying that a former colleague had added me as a business contact on the site Plaxo. At least I know him. There’s another site called Lyro that I apparently have signed onto, and via which I often receive notices that I have been forever joined with complete strangers. At least that’s what it feels like.
My colleague Joel Stein wrote recently about his own ambivalence to the social networking craze in an essay titled “You Are Not My Friend“:
I’m sure social networks serve many important functions that improve our lives, like reconnecting us with old friends and finding out if people we used to date are still good-looking. And social networks all have messaging functions, which would be an excellent way to send information if no one had invented e-mail.
But really, these sites aren’t about connecting and reconnecting. They’re a platform for self-branding. Old people are always worrying that our blogging and personal websites and MySpace profiles are taking away our privacy, but they clearly don’t understand the word privacy. We’re not sharing things we don’t want other people to know. We’re showing you our best posed, retouched photos. We’re listing the Pynchon books we want you to think we’ve read all the way through.
Still, part of what you get from Joel’s essay is that he’s so hip, so popular, so down with the kids that he has accounts on MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, and even Doostang. And that’s just my problem with Facebook. I’m not hip. I’m not popular. I’m not down with the kids, unless you’re talking about the kind who build Lego pony houses on the floor. And I couldn’t give a rat’s poo if you agree.
The idea of a web-based network is useful, if only to keep your contacts organized and readily accessible. What I don’t want is to join a clique just ’cause everybody else is doing it.
Apparently, a lot of people my age are suffering social networking angst. Take Matthew Rose over at the Wall Street Journal:
Having reached the ripe age of 35, I didn’t expect to confront the kind of delicate social dilemmas usually associated with emotional teenage girls. Who are my friends? Should I befriend people I don’t know? Why does everyone have more friends than me?
But that’s crazy. We’re in our mid-30s, for the love of Pete. Why should I spend hours of my already sapped day wringing my already chapped hands about who is and isn’t my friend? How possibly will this enrich my life? You tell me. But not by friending me on Facebook.