The ghost of Facebook past: Social media doesn’t make us more connected

I’ve had a number of conversations with friends — who aren’t web people — who use Facebook and mentioned that thing which many early adopters lament. When folks from the past, try to add you as a friend on a site like Facebook.

What to do really depends on what your intentions are on Facebook or some other social network.

Some people feel like you ought to add anyone who wants to be your friend, because they see these sites as simply tools to leverage relationships for their own personal gain. Others will say, that you simply build connections and it can benefit you indirectly.

For my part, I feel that each site is different. LinkedIn is different than Facebook is different than Myspace (blech) and so forth. If you understand why you’re there, then you can use discretion to make the best decisions about “who to keep” and “who to decline.”

The value judgments are blurry, I suppose. You let one person in and then you want to avoid offending someone connected to them by declining their request. The most difficult thing is online communities. You get to know people well and then come the Facebook invites, as you inevitable have one or two people added who might be less conservative about who they add.

My policy has generally been if I’ve had some sort of relationship with you in real life, but there are exceptions to that rule. I’ve gone and purged people over time, but I have to admit that lately that my Facebook fatigue has been on high alert.

Being inundated with updates about the lives of people that 90% really aren’t that important to your everyday life is kind of strange. I mean, in most cases, you realize flat out that they don’t 1) care about what you’re doing or 2) you don’t care about they’re doing or 3) you haven’t talked to them in years and yet, you’d never consider ‘unfriending them’ is quite the conundrum of online friendom. (say that three times fast.)

There are a bevy of tools at your disposal these days to minimize information from folks who break up with their significant others each week and to increase it from the folks who are more important to you. But that takes work, patience and frankly, enough gumption to want to waste time organizing your Facebook contacts as it mattered. I think it matters for security and privacy, but beyond that? It’s not worth the effort invested.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m care about people. So even people that I have a passing connection can be interesting to me. It’s nice to know “what people are up to” and I get a great deal of satisfaction from seeing very particular groups of people (e.g. folks I went to K-12 school with, specific folks from college, old student workers…one of the bazillion kids I worked with during my camp summers, et. al.) doing well and living the good life and I’ve seen evidence of that sentiment returned to many of those same people.

But the trading card friends phenomenon has always left me a bit perplexed. I have a lot of friends because of all of the traveling I’ve done and disparate social situations over the past decade and more, that lend themselves to have lots of groups of people I know who aren’t connected to each other. Yet, sometime you stare at the list of people and think, “Gee, what’s the point of all of this? Nobody really cares.”

Many folks out there — no doubt lots of them who don’t bathe in social media for their job — find these tools extremely useful for keeping tabs on the myriad people throughout their lives and connecting with long lost pals of a bygone time in their lives. (and to show off baby pictures galore…)

It also explains the growing number of folks over 30 who are using Facebook as a networking tool.

Bottom line: The illusion that this generation — millennials and the fringes of Generation X — are more connected than their landline tethered, email dependent parents and grandparents seems a bit naive. I realize the Twitterati among my readers might disagree. But the connections these days are largely superficial. The tools make it easy to keep in touch and lend themselves to superfluous interactions that in most cases are better off left on the cutting room floor.

It’s okay to let it go. It’s just the internet and they probably won’t notice anyway.

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