I’ve been [ thinking | grumbling | puzzling ] lately about the notion of “friend” on social sites like Facebook. In turn, that leads to musing about “friends” in general. To the surprise of some, people had friends even in the long-ago days before MySpace (or AOL, or usenet). And “friend” is ofter a generalization that conceals a discrimination between groups like these:
- People with whom you have a close, unguarded personal connection
- Coworkers with whom you’ve build up increased openness
- Colleagues (people outside of your immediate work) you have good relationships with
- “Acquaintances with optimism” — people you know in some limited context and are not opposed to knowing better
The commonality seems to be that in each group, the two parties both have a sense of benefiting from the connection. (One definition of friend, as in the first bullet above, is someone who, when you make a fool of yourself, understands it’s not a permanent condition.)
The difference is in the context of the connection. With coworkers and colleagues, you have some more-or-less limited realm in which most of your connection takes place: the project, the work group, the profession, the area of interest. I’ve only spoken to Harold Jarche once, I think, but think of him as a valued colleague because of interests we share, and because I benefit from things he talks about in forums i visit (e.g., his blog, sites that he and I both visit).
I’ve just joined the Web 2.0 for Learning Professionals group, and found myself oddly hesitant to build yet another circle of network friends. I don’t think I’m all that unfriendly; I think my own tendency is to begin with one-to-one contact (email, comments on a blog, that sort of thing) and only after some undefined period make the status official.
Maybe that’s because I resist a tendency to think of “e-networks” as different in kind from other networks. (And that’s leaving aside my cranky wish that people would stop putting “e-” in front of — and “2.0” after — everything. I expect to see Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese 2.0 at the store very soon.)
At the center of my networks is… me. It’s like being six once again, only with a driver’s license and a mortgage. More seriously, my networks combine face-to-face connections, distance connections like with my cousin Frank, whom I’ve seen in person twice in 30 years), people I connect to via phone or email as the mood strikes me, and people I deal with mainly in a single venue.
One benefit of multiple channels for networking is that each has the possibility of informing the other. I can look at my tendency not to offer friendship (in the Facebook sense) and at least think about whether someone else wants to be invited, rather than to invite. And I can’t worry about electronic non-response any more than I do elsewhere.
One cycle that I’m seeing repeated in various online venues gets labeled “bankruptcy.” Someone declares email bankruptcy and erases everything in his in-box. Another person realizes she can’t really track 550 blogs in NetVibes. A third person decides that if there were only twelve apostles, perhaps tracking 1,200 folks via Twitter is becoming a twitch.
So, you pays your money (or you downloads your open-source) and you takes your choice. I’m not always as dogmatic as I sound, and I can seem more shy than necessary.
On that last point, though, I treasure Garrison Keillor’s observation. He said that folks are always telling shy people to get over it. He’s not convinced shyness is something that needs getting over, and has seen many people who would benefit from having a lot more shyness than they do.
Doorbell photo by Darwin Bell.