in entrepreneurship

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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  1. Ryan, you are right. The two terms have been flipped so much that sometimes I make the sin of integrating them, but it’s a mistake to be sure.

    As for Andrew and your post, thanks for letting me know I’m months behind the curve. ;) In all seriousness, though..thanks for that. It was a good breakdown and synopsis of things for sure.

    And Andy is right. People need to take the time to use the protections and the tools within social software aimed at making it easier to manage. Friend groups on facebook, for instance, have been a godsend for me in terms of being able to organize things better.

  2. [shameless self-promotion]
    Here’s another take on how different social networks attract different types of users: the habits of social network addicts.
    [/shameless self-promotion]

    The crux of the study linked to there is this:

    MySpace addicts are somewhat vain – focusing heavily on establishing and fine tuning their online personas by customization of their personal profiles

    Facebook addicts focus more on engagement – interacting with applications, music and people both on and off the platform

    Twitter addicts are most interested in fostering communication and exploration – sites that allow a user to understand what their contacts are doing, provide a platform for content discovery and encourage users to actively participate are the most likely places to find hardcore twitterers

    Not sure what it says about you if you’re addicted to all three social networks. ;)

  3. I more or less agree with you — attention is scarce and needs to be preserved, and it can be easy to be fatigued by these various networks. My only real point of contention is that you’re talking about social _networking_, not social _media_ (where media — like digital media — consists of music, movies, tv shows, photos, etc., of which Facebook is not a part).

    “Social media” is connecting people socially around their interests in music, movies, and the like. Keeping track of old friends is networking, which is quite different. :)

  4. Good insight, as always. I agree that it can be difficult to decide whether it matters that someone is asking to connect with you, and you barely knew/know them. And yet, it is not that much work to accept their request and at the same time (in the case of Facebook) assign them to the “Limited Profile” group. When their activity starts showing up in the newsfeed, simply mouse over the item, and from the Options… menu select “Less about [name].” If nothing changes, in a couple of months you can cut them loose and nobody’s interests will be harmed.

    Yes, it’s a bit of work to keep these things straight, but if a site offers you some value (there are, after all, mostly REAL friends connected to you, right?) it’s worth the investment to calibrate the settings and craft your network so it’s shaped to help you accomplish whatever it is you want it to do. Like you said, after all, it all depends on why you’re using the service in the first place.

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