I Have a Problem with Facebook®

IT'S NOT ONLY THAT Facebook® is a kind of pathetic display for people (including me, I’m sorry to say) who need to inform their friends of their opinions, events, and interests—the problem lies in the definition of “friend.”

I don’t know how anyone can have 50 real friends, much less 5,000. When I sit down to count how many friends I have, the number is much less than 50. Indeed, under the most stringent definition, the number may actually be closer to 5. So it depends upon how you define “friends.”

Like you, I believe that friends are the cement that holds society together, whether they are friends-by-sanguinity or those we meet out in real life. In addition, all friends are not alike; they have a pecking order just as families do. My parents had a greater impact on me than my grandparents or my siblings. Spouses and children hold special places in our hearts because they often have the greatest impact of all. Where friends fit in this hierarchy depends upon the friend . . . and upon us.

I have a couple of friends I esteem higher than some of my siblings, though none as much as I esteem my parents. Thus, in my hierarchy, parents hold the highest position, but it’s possible for friends to be right up there in the top 5.

All well and good, but what about the friends we make on Facebook®—I’ll call them Facebook Friends®— who, but for the Internet, we would never have met at all? Or those we have met on occasion, maybe done business with, or in my case, people who appreciate my artistic endeavors? Can these people truly be Real-Life Friends®?

Of course not, though I credit the Internet with reacquainting me with friends who got lost in the past. I have reconnected with several friends from high school. But note, I say “reconnected.” Four decades ago, we knew each other and now we’re catching up. One friend is now an avid runner, another a talented tile contractor, still another a nascent marketer of her own homemade chili.

We reconnected, and for that, I’m happy, but the question remains: is it possible to connect online in the first place? Can a real friendship be built upon shared recipes, look-what-my-child-did-today postings, political rants, and pictures of kitties napping with puppies?

Highly unlikely, I think.

But I’m torn about letting my Solomonic sword fall. I’m flattered that people I’ve never met (except perhaps briefly at a book signing) want to be Facebook Friends®, but I know they’re not on the same level as Real-Life Friends®. The answer lies in not only whether I would share my deepest beliefs with them, but whether they really want to know my deepest beliefs.

After all, they may have just liked a book I wrote or a speech I gave or a movie I directed—they may be horrified to hear my views on religion or politics, just as I was disappointed to learn too much about certain musical heroes’ political views online. Artists I had admired for decades suddenly became knuckleheads to me because they let slip what they thought about people who believe what I believe. I’ll never hear their music again without thinking about this and it makes me sad. As they say, TMI.

In like fashion, I’m sure there are people out there who, drawn to me by my writing, are disgusted with me after hearing my politics or religious views.

You see, when I share my beliefs on religion or politics with Real-Life Friends®, they have a context within which to place my views. We’ve often known each other for so long that they can remember when I campaigned for George McGovern or served a mission for the LDS church. Thus my current politics and heresies can be seen by them as evidence of a man capable of change and that may ameliorate their negative reaction to my belief that Obama is an affirmative-action failure or that Thomas Monson does not brunch with Jesus.

In other words, I’m pretty sure my comments are blocked by many of my Facebook Friends®, who never really wanted to be Real-Life Friends® of the sort I want and need: people who will not only share their successes, recipes, and favorite quotes with me but will listen with an open heart as I express my deepest existential anxieties, as did a dear friend just yesterday.

So I want to be the kind of Real-Life Friend® that when a friend of mine is having a difficult time, they will think to call me so I can listen with the same open-heartedness I’ve seen in their eyes. (Note that real friendship needs and desires occasional Face-to-Face® contact.)

I think that’s why Facebook® has a Facebook Fan® page. I don’t think Don Fagen of Steely Dan wants to have my politics pollute his Timeline. He’s a lunatic leftist and I’m a reactionary conservative. What he wants is for me to buy his next album and see him in concert. In short, I’m not Don’s friend—I’m a fan.

So I’m going to be making a change, or an exchange, to be exact. I’m going to cut loose my Facebook Friends® in favor of Real-Life Friends®, those who know and like me enough to email me once in a while, ring me up for dinner, or call when they’re in town. These are the people I’ll gratefully and simply call “friends.”

To my Facebook Friends®, if you’re really interested in knowing my personal proclivities as well as my public posturing, there’s a way: contact me and let’s get to know each other better.

You never know: it may be, as Humphrey Bogart said in Casablanca, the start of a “beautiful friendship,” no trademark registration required.

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