Confession: I have 292 Facebook friends. At least 46 of them are people I’ve never met. 25 or so are people I’ve only met once. 93 are former classmates. 64 are family of one description or another. And (not including family) I’ve only seen 18 of them in real life in the past 12 months.
Further confession: Two of those connections are animals (one cat; one dog).
Of course, I say that I have 292 Facebook friends, but most of them aren’t friends so much as they are a virtual network of acquaintances, former school mates, and family. This isn’t to say I don’t value my Facebook friends, because I do. I really, really do. But the truth is that I (like most adults) only have a handful of friends—you know, real friends as opposed to people I’m friendly with. Thought I must admit that Facebook was the tool that helped to create two of my closest real-life friendships.
The thing I like best about Facebook is the way everything connects. For me, Facebook began with me connecting with my virtual friends—people I ‘knew’ from online forums and newsgroups. Then I began to connect with my family and former school mates as they joined Facebook. And now, I’m connected with people who are connected with people who know me, even though I don’t know the person I’m connected to. (Does that make sense?)
It’s funny the way it works; it’s funny what prompts people to connect. I mean, before Paul died, I was only friends with one of his university friends—a woman I’d met in ‘real life’ years before. A day or two after he died, I received a friend request from another woman he went to uni with, but someone I’d only met once before. After his funeral, several more of his friends ‘friended’ me. Some I’d met, some I’d not met at the time. And still others whom I’ve still never met!
Even funnier still is how people I know from different parts of my life are now overlapping. It seems that as my ‘real life’ friends and ‘virtual’ friends have been connecting with me on my Facebook posts, those sets of people have found common ground and have friended each other. So now my sister is friends with some of my virtual friends. And even different groups of real life friends have found each other—either because they’ve connected virtually or because they’ve met in real life as my US and UK worlds have collided.
But the funniest of all is when I notice the ever-so-faint dots that connect two of my friends when they’re not connected to each other. Example 1: Last year a friend suggestion popped up noting that I had two friends in common with someone I’d never met. But those two friends (one real, one virtual) didn’t know each other, either. It just so happened that my real life friend was an old classmate of a virtual friend’s work colleague. Example 2: A virtual friend of mine is the real life friend of a couple of my husband’s university friends, even though he never met my husband. And it turns out that the same virtual friend is friends in real life and on Facebook with the friends of one of my classmates, who doesn’t know the guy but was very surprised to see that his real life friends had a friend in common with me. (Again, did you follow that?)
You could argue that these arbitrary connections to random strangers around the world are silly and pointless, but it entertains me. Plus that, many of those strangers have been a great social outlet for me when I needed it most. So when I start connecting the virtual dots, I can see a real life network of support.
I’m sure that over time my Facebook friend list will grow even more. And I’m sure that as the networking tool changes to adapt to society (or as society adapts to the tool?) we will change the way we define friends. But that’s OK, because you can never have too many friends. Right?