How many friends do you have? Do you have any idea anymore? Or do you even know what the word “friend” means now?
I ran across a discussion earlier today among funeral directors about how many people typically attend funerals. Although they all knew of some large and showy funerals, most were more familiar with the ones at which few people showed up.
One guy said that 10 to 15 people was typical for him. Another thought it might be closer to 40. But the numbers were shockingly small, except in cases of large, close-knit families with a lot of local relatives.
How many Facebook “friends” do you have? It’s bothered me for years that the folks at the company use that word, because their idea of friends is very different than mine. At one point, I had 5,000 Facebook “friends” — which is the limit for a personal account — and even after aggressively deleting and blocking people for years, I still have about 500.
But how many of those people are really my friends? How many would show up at my funeral?
When social media first became popular, I didn’t see the point. I finally set up a MySpace page. (Remember those?) But it seemed pointless and I wrote off the idea. Then an ex-girlfriend wanted me to sign up for Facebook about 12 or 13 years ago. I didn’t see the point, but I did it to make her happy.
And Facebook send me down a social media rabbit hole that leaves me liking human beings less and less every day.
I’ve come to hate social media. I never got attached to Twitter. (It’s hard for me to say anything briefly enough to fit into a tweet.) I have a couple of Instagram accounts — which you might have seen here — but I don’t have any great attachment to that. I post my photos and “like” a few other people’s pictures, but it’s not a big deal.
Facebook has been the most dangerous to me. When I had allowed myself to build a huge Facebook following, it allowed me to “perform” for others and get attention which felt good to my ego but which was dangerous to something else inside me. (I wrote about this one time.)
I’ve actually made some real friends on Facebook. I’ve met a few people in “real life” who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. But I mostly have the veneer of friendship with most of these people. I know their names and I know some surface facts about them, but when I think about it seriously, I realize that I don’t know much about what’s real in most of them. And hardly any of them know much that’s real inside me.
I fear that we are allowing social media to create more and more ties to more and more people, but at the expense of the closer and deeper relationships which we used to have with people who we talked with and spent time with in person.
There was a time when I assumed that the social media relationships we developed would be in addition to our real-life friendships, but I sense that the time we spend online — and the sense of shallow connection we have there — is actually taking away from the time and emotional energy which should go to people in our real lives.
Social media does the same thing with information. It lets us have shallow contact with lots and lots of information and subjects that we wouldn’t have touched upon 30 years ago, but we don’t take long-term deep dives into as many specific things as we might have before. The result is that we know just enough to be dangerous — enough to make us believe we know more than we do — about a lot of things.
That means that most people have opinions about things they are absolutely unqualified to have opinions about — because they’ve seen their friends post some shallow “memes” on the subjects.
Facebook might claim I have 500 friends — and it might have once claimed I had 5,000 friends — but I don’t. Not real friends. That is an illusion.
I’m still planning to leave Facebook by the end of this year. I suspect I’m going to have to leave the account open — for business purposes — but that’s why I’ve set up a Facebook page just for this page, where links to what I write here can be posted. (Please follow if you’d like.) It’s not the same, though. I think it has about 35 followers, which might be a more accurate reflection of my number of real friends.
I don’t want to live a shallow life. I don’t want shallow relationships. I don’t want to have a shallow understanding of a million things.
I’d like to choose the people who matter to me and invest more time and effort in them. I’d like to stop spreading my attention so broadly and focus on subjects that actually matter to me — and ignore the people who are having useless political and social squabbles, for example.
I know it’s hard for most people to conceive of modern life without social media, but I think more and more of us are going to have to reject it as the unhealthy thing that it is. And we have to quit thinking that the problem is Facebook or Twitter or any specific company. The problem is the medium itself.
We need to reconnect with “real life.” We need to narrow our focus to the people who matter most to us and the few things that really matter to us. In order to do that, we’re going to have to break our social media addiction.
I suspect more people will be at my funeral one day if I invest a lot of serious time in a few people — instead of having shallow and weak connections to a lot of people who wouldn’t notice if I died.