Have you been friended? Have you friended others? Has much of your free time been consumed by developing an electronic social network, the vast majority of which are essentially people you have never actually met but who you only “know” because they are a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend, or because you mistakenly gave someone your business card at a party? Do you measure your self worth based on how many friends you have on MySpace or Facebook or one of the myriad other social networks out there?
If so, have fun with it. I have decided at age fifty-one that I will be a social network curmudgeon. This is odd because I was an early social network adapter. I was one of the first people to discover electronic bulletin boards, which preceded the Internet. They were arguably the first online social networks. I still count as friends many of my people from those BBSing days. They are not people who “friended” me; they are my real friends because we have actually met and talked to each other in the same time and place.
The truth is I cannot be bothered to get a social network. That is not to say I did not put a toe into the social networking world. A co-worker mentioned some years ago that he had a MySpace page. I figured as someone whose job involves staying on top of Internet trends so I could determine their value for my organization, I should check out this social networking thing. So I created my very own MySpace page. I was so pathetic that my only “friend” was Tom, a.k.a. Tom Anderson, MySpace’s first president, and he would be anyone’s friend, no questions asked. Even Jeffrey Dahmer could be one of Tom’s friends. I posted a few public things about myself and then tried to forget about MySpace. I could find nothing compelling about it. What was all the fuss about anyhow?
Amazingly though I kept getting “friended” by all sorts of complete strangers, many of them half my age, of a different gender and who looked great in bathing suits, and even better out of them. Many had links to their personal home pages where I could see revealing photos of them, but the good stuff apparently required a fee. Why would they charge me, their friend, a fee?
I occasionally went back to MySpace to check things out, always finding a queue of people who wanted to be my friend, none of whom I actually knew. Of course if I had been more forthcoming about whom I was, perhaps my neighbors and real friends would have friended me too. I guess I should have friended them too. Except that, I could not. I do not have many friends, but those I do have I want to keep. Did I want them to join my online social network and thereby likely subject them to lots of bogus friends, advertising and the resulting loss of physical activity that comes from hanging out online with your friends all day? No, I could not. I thought too highly of them.
Ideally, if I wanted to talk with my friends I would stop by their house or call them on the phone. No one drops by people’s houses just to chat anymore. The phone works as always, but I am not one of those people whose social life is organized around their cell phone. Mostly, if I want to chat with my friends, I send them an email or occasionally we use instant messaging. If necessary I will phone them, but email is kinder because it is asynchronous and I do not want to interrupt them.
If you are going to spurn social networks, it helps to be introverted. I come by it naturally and I think it is hardwired into the chromosomes of both sides of my family. Parties give me hives. I am fine in small groups of people but if I have to endure a gathering of more than a dozen, unless they are family it tends to be painful. The ultimate nightmare for me is to have to endure a large party or social gathering where I know nobody. This does happen occasionally and is usually business-related. For example, every couple of years I will be sent (or send myself) to some sort of convention alone. There are always social gatherings. Unless I know a few people who are attending, who I will try to hang out with, I will freeze up and spend inordinate amounts of time grazing the chips and dips.
Perhaps that also explains my aversion to social networks. In theory for an introvert like me, a social network should be perfect. After all, I do not have to interact and when I do, I can do so from the safety of my personal computer. While I am always interested in the comings and goings of my friends, I have zero desire to know about the comings and goings of friends of my friends, or their friends ad infinitum. As I age I am learning that time is a finite resource. With luck, I will be around on this planet another thirty or forty years. How should I spend this time? Should I spend it making tenuous electronic connections in case I want to start a second business, advance my profession or need a date? On the other hand, should I spend it doing something that gives me more meaning or enjoyment? For me, the answer is very simple. Screw the social networking stuff. It is nice when I get the occasional invitation from a friend to join their electronic social network. It means they are thinking about me. I just hope that as a condition of friendship they do not expect me to regularly hit their Facebook page.
I have discovered that even my siblings do not really care that much about my happenings. After all, we are married with children. I send detailed emails three or four times a year summarizing events going on. That seems to satisfy them and for the most part, they do not bother to reply with questions. Their level of concern will of course skyrocket if something dreadful happened to me personally, or my wife or daughter. For the most part, they do not care about my regular comings or goings. I am often indifferent to theirs as well.
I have even stopped promoting my blog among my family and friends. My family is aware of it, but except for a dutiful sibling or two, they ignore it, having busy and fulfilling lives of their own. The same is true with my friends. Obviously, I still invest an inordinate amount of time and effort in my blog, but its purposes are not to acquire a social network. It exists to feed my own sense of vanity (which is actually rather small), perfect the art of writing, and to pass on to the universe and my fellow citizens my musings, some of which may be useful.
Most people’s experience with social networks is probably like these people’s. There may come a day when I will want to have an active social network, and I will rue that I have not spent time today to acquire one. I doubt that day will arrive. My suspicion (or perhaps just my hope) is that within five years social networks will just collapse over their own bloated and likely worthless weight.