The other morning I was on Facebook when the chat box opened and this message from my friend Judith appeared:
“Steve my dear, I´m cleaning up my friends list, and keep just those who are visiting my wall frequently… sorry to say goodbye to you … Hugs xoxoxo…”
Well, that was odd. So I typed in my somewhat puzzled reply and . . . nope, can’t message that person anymore. I went to her wall. Sure enough, I’d been unfriended.
This got me to thinking.
I pictured Judith—which I must say was hard to do with any confidence since I’d never actually seen Judith—standing before me like that handsome actor in the old Vicks Formula 44 commercial. “I’m not a doctor,” he famously said, “but I play one on TV.”
Similar thing going on here, no?
Judith was a “Facebook friend,” by which I mean she was someone I’d met on FB and knew nowhere else. According to the FB log of our messages, we’d become FB friends in November 2010. I don’t recall how that happened. We had since exchanged occasional enthusiasms involving movies and pop culture, and occasionally hit the “like” button on each other’s walls and exchanged those vaunted Facebook birthday greetings. All our exchanges were sunny and—let’s concede—entirely superficial.
embedded by Embedded Video
Nonetheless, I liked hearing from Judith from time to time and sharing with her some picture or video I thought she’d appreciate. We were doing what Facebook addicts generally do: tap on the lever like lab rats and hope that occasionally we’ll be rewarded with a tiny chunk of cheese. A tiny chunk of cheese is what most FB friends amount to—those disembodied spirits who may or may not in fact be people you’d want to know in real life, but who have agreed to recognize you if you’ll recognize them. You are their chunk of cheese as well. There’s—how to put it?—an undeniable little zing! when some FB friend shows up to share something on your wall or hit the “like” button or trade a few comments with you on something you posted.
Why do we do it? After all, these little visits aren’t real. Not really real. They’re virtual.
First, I think the question’s not really important. At work, when you walk down the hallway or enter the elevator and say a brief pleasant “hello” to someone you hardly know other than to say “hello” to, it’s just for the pleasant experience of being pleasant to someone and having someone be pleasant to you. It ain’t all that “real,” if you think about it—even if the conversation extends past “hello” and all the way to wishing each other a nice weekend.
But when you’re on Facebook, doing essentially the same thing—though often with far more veiled and anonymous characters—the price for the pleasantry is still essentially zero, and the return on the time you invest is hardly less—and sometimes more—than when you meet a “real” person on the elevator. Even if that zing! you’re getting while on FB is in response to a disembodied online spirit, a zing! is still a zing!
Let’s face it. There are something like 650,000,000 Facebook users currently pounding the little lever for a chunk of cheese. Buy the stock.
Okay, I’m not a neuroscientist, but I play one on 317am. So look at it this way: If, at the neurochemical level, your brain can’t tell the difference between a date with your boyfriend and a large bowl of Häagen-Dazs pralines & cream ice cream, then in some cases the ice cream will do just fine. And unlike your boyfriend, you can simply toss the container when you’re done. No fuss, no muss. The same–so I’ve learned–goes for FB friends.
I did not take my being dumped by FB friend Judith very seriously, but I did think enough of it to mention it to my real friend Sherry. “Cheer up,” Sherry said, “You did not get dumped. You just got spring-cleaned.”
She’s right. Welcome to our times.