Tuesday, March 23, 2010

So many friends, so little time

The boxes stood side by side on my computer screen as I sipped my morning coffee. My mouse hovered between them.

Confirm Ignore

Clicking the first box would mean my Facebook friend count would rise to 240, a paltry number by Facebook standards considering that others in my Facebook network had thousands of “friends” in their accounts. Still, it was far more than I had acquired in my real life.

I had seven friends in common with Linda, the requestee. All were comedians like myself. Linda was a part time comedian, according to her profile. Still, I had no idea who she was.

I continued staring at the boxes, pondering Linda’s fate. I asked myself, what would be the harm in friending her? I still don’t know what happens when a friend request gets denied on Facebook. For all I know, the lonely jilted person gets an email or text message stating, “Greg doesn’t want to be your friend. Here’s his cell phone number and home address in case you want to discuss it further. Oh, and here’s the name of an attorney in case you want to sue Greg for pain, suffering and mental anguish.”

I was willing to take that chance. I clicked “ignore.” Linda would not become part of my Facebook contingent and my friend count thus remains at 239.

I hope her feelings aren’t hurt. Maybe Linda was somebody I actually knew yet just couldn’t place. Her profile photo didn’t exactly help matters as it featured a very grainy image of a woman kissing a man. At least I think it was a man. The photo was really grainy.

Yet I am sensing a mood shift in the Facebook community. I keep reading that, if Facebook were a country, it would be the world’s fourth largest. I’m not sure how residents of Indonesia, currently the world’s fourth largest country, feel about this but chances are they are discussing it on their Facebook walls.

But the Facebook population explosion appears to have slowed. Like me, people are no longer randomly clicking “confirm” to every Facebook friend request that appears onscreen. Those that do are starting to regret it, as evidenced by some of the recent wall posts I’ve read:

Is it just me or does everyone get too many event invites? Time to delete some names.

To all my FB friends: I friended you because I care about you and your thoughts, NOT Farmville or Mafia or other third party apps

The previous post was written by a friend who is a member of the following Facebook “groups”:

50,000 Against Healthcare Bill in the next 72 Hours

I Bet We Can Find 1,000,000+ people who Disapprove of the Health Care Bill

304,059,724 Against Obama’s Healthcare Takeover

Repeal Obamacare

My friend is nothing if not optimistic.

When I entered Northwestern University in 1980, I attended fraterntity Rush Week, a five day drinking binge where seemingly EVERYBODY in EVERY HOUSE I entered wanted to be my friend. Thirty seconds after opening a door adorned with Greek letters, members wearing shirts with those same letters approached me from all sides and offered me red plastic cups filled to the rim with keg beer or a sweet-tasting punch, made with a combination of grain alcohol and moonshine whiskey, and bearing the name of the frat somewhere in the title.

Here Greg, try some Fiji Fire.
Careful. This is Delta Devil
Want a Sigma Slam?

With drink in hand, they let me steer the conversation any direction I pleased. Even if I chose to talk about the chemical composition of cement, they appeared interested.

Eventually I chose Phi Kappa Sigma, known around campus as “The Skull House” and creators of “Skull Juice,” a drink so toxic, it could have passed as paint thinner. Becoming a Phi Kap was a decision I never regretted even though I soon realized that not all the Phi Kap upperclassmen found me as interesting as they did during Rush Week. Factions formed, members occasionally allied over pertinent fraternity issues, (like whether the women of Delta Gamma would be more impressed if we served Strawberry Daiquiris or Pina Coladas at the mixer. Turns out the answer was, “neither”) and every member, myself included, had at least one “what did I see in these guys and what did they see in me?” moment.

Facebook, I’m realizing, is nothing more than the world’s largest fraternity. The only difference is that you can remove people at any time, something we couldn’t do at Phi Kappa Sigma unless their dues checks continually bounced.

I have yet to defriend any Facebook friends although I am starting to profile them, much the same way that federal agencies profile suspected terrorists. So far I have identified several:

The Meteorologist: This person apparently joined Facebook solely so he could provide weather updates to the entire Facebook community. My meteorological friend has posted the following in the last week alone:

The sun is out and the snow is melting
Yesterday temps in the 60s. Today, 2 inches of snow on the ground
Loving this brief warm spell we are having
Loving the warm weather. Melt snow…MELT

The Godfather - Someone who spends waaaaay too much time playing the aforementioned Mafia Wars, an exceptionally popular Facebook game that I refuse to become part of because I don’t want the following posts to clutter up other friends’ walls:

___ is working hard to finish the Loot the Police Impound Lot job and is in need of a whole lot of Armored Trucks from their Mafia!

_____ needs help to take on local motorcycle thugs in Mafia Wars.

The Crop Duster – The same person except that their life revolves around Farmville, another third party app that has something to do with cute little animals and, unlike Mafia Wars is void of violence. I have yet to receive a post stating that 500 cows were slaughtered in Farmville.

The Joiner - That friend who encourages you to hug your son (even if you are childless or, like me, produced only daughters), applaud the accomplishments of someone with Down Syndrome, forward a political message about global warming or change your profile picture to your favorite Mad Men character - just for a day. These people apparently never heard the “If-your-friend-jumped-off-a-bridge-would-you-do-it too?” speech.

Top Chef – The friend who shares about-to-be-consumed meals with everybody – usually with photos. Two of my friends have, in the past week, prepared and/or eaten buttermilk marinated chicken, salmon ber blanc with capers and blackened fish over coastal salsa and Belgian endive. While these recipes all sound delicious, reading about and viewing the finished product simply wants to make me get up and head to the refrigerator.

The Exercise Freak – This friend wouldn’t be caught dead eating buttermilk marinated chicken because he or she is too busy posting exercise updates. To all those people who tell me about their recently completed 20-mile run through the hills of some town with an Indian name, remember that running enthusiast Jim Fixx bragged about his hobby in a best selling book - and died after jogging.

If you’re reading this and find yourself in one of these categories, don’t worry. I don’t plan to defriend anybody as I truly enjoy Facebook’s ability to help me reconnect with old friends and meet new ones. Heck, I’ve probably been guilty of many “who cares” posts myself. So, Farmville and Mafia Wars participants aside, keep sending me weather updates, menu schedules, exercise regimens and political rants.

Just not every hour.

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