Relationships In A 5G World
“I have 2,764 friends!” exclaimed my co-worker with great pride. “I don’t even know 2,876 people let alone like more than 4.” was all I could muster. Was there something wrong with me? Why do I consistently maintain about 50 Facebook friends in a world where quadruple digits is a badge of honor? I’ve had the same 10 Instagram followers since the app launched. Why was I losing this internet contest, and how could I quickly right the ship to be more popular? What flaw exists within me that I can’t connect with thousands? Time for research, self-reflection, and some hard questions.
The types of people on Facebook
I began with someone who, coincidentally, was one of my ‘tribe of 50′ on Facebook. Shelly has 1,512 friends. Shelly is rather mild-mannered and introverted. You wouldn’t find Shelly at a party dancing and whooping it up. She was more the quiet type cleaning up the empties, so the host wouldn’t have so much to do at the end of the evening. How did she become Miss Popularity and not me? I also noticed that she never ever posts a blessed thing on Facebook, and yet these people swarm towards her like a moth to a flame.
I could learn from her. I could perhaps understand my apparent inability to maintain close relationships with people. I could be better at Facebook. I logically thought I could replicate these bonds if I understood the relationship she had with each person. I sat, pen and paper in hand, to chat with her. Here’s what I came away with.
Shelly hadn’t seen or spoken with 99% of her friends and wouldn’t know them if they fell on her. She and Bob hadn’t seen each other since nursery school. Brenda was a girl she worked with for a few weeks about 35 years ago. Mark was a former boss, that she didn’t particularly care for while he supervised her. Ellen was someone she went on vacations with about 15 years ago, but they went their separate ways. She hadn’t spoken with about 25 of her friends because of an argument; she honestly couldn’t explain who another 30 were, and she told me that another ten were obnoxious as could be. But they were her friends.
Shelly was a serial friend collector. The fabric of the relationship was irrelevant. Shelly felt better about herself because she had a crazy number of Facebook friends. The internet made her think that she was famous.
Next on my list was Matt. Matt had several thousand connections, posted multiple times a day, and appeared to be an avid iPhone photographer. Matt was the mayor of Facebook. I asked Matt how he had time for so many relationships, and he said he didn’t. He had unfollowed all but five people on his list, so he wasn’t bothered by their postings.
Why does someone have thousands of friends not to have a relationship with them? Matt couldn’t answer. Did any of them get annoyed because he didn’t follow them? Matt replied that he hadn’t thought about that because he didn’t care. Why does someone have thousands of friends and not care about them? I asked about all the pictures. Did he feel that he was exposing too much of himself? Matt said he wanted his friends to know what a great life he had. Facebook and the number of likes helped Matt feel better about himself. The adoration of people that he didn’t care enough about to follow helped make him feel important. Their opinions mattered and boosted his ego.
My final subject was Tracey. Tracey had a zillion friends, never posted but blew up messenger like it was her job. Tracey could tell you what was going on in all 3,100 friends’ lives and yet hadn’t heard anyone’s voice in decades. Tracey cultivated and nurtured all her relationships through typing. She considered herself quite popular and blessed with so many friendships. Facebook gave Tracey the feeling of intimacy in her friendships, and she never had to be bothered to see or hear any of them!
On what social media truly is
Social media has brought the ability to reconnect and catch up with old acquaintances and lost family. We reminisce. We get and give a ‘Reader’s Digest’ sanitized version of our lives, omitting all the bad. We can post photos. We can look up the boy who we had a crush on in 1975 or the annoying girl in high school to see what became of them. We can search out reviews on restaurants, businesses, and the like. We can research and learn about any topic. We can do or be anyone. Scary isn’t it?
Social media has also brought the ability to create a fantasy world of fake connection, false intimacy, and post popularity. We post photos to craft an image of ourselves lording over a perfect world. I, myself, have never posted a quick snap of my face when I wake up. My eyes puffy from allergies, sun spots on my skin, rosacea exposed, and hair that makes Medusa look tame. We show the perfect makeup, clothing, location, and smile. We retake and retake them until they represent what we want to put forth. No blemishes, no warts, no scowls to be seen. No reality.
We message back and forth yet we would never pick up the phone to talk. That would be too encroaching into our lives and too personal. How many times have you said that you were talking with someone when you were typing? The art of conversation has died a rapid death.
I have 50 friends. In reality, that number is probably around 6. Of those 6 are my husband, my son, and my sister. The three that remain are people that I see a few times a year. I post many pictures, I rant and rave about politics, and I follow almost all on my list. I don’t tone myself down, I don’t alter my beliefs and I can be downright obnoxious to some. I add people and delete people. The other day someone, who I haven’t seen in years, posted that they were at a local place. I quickly commented that I only live ten minutes from there! They responded that it was a great place. They didn’t say next time they were in town that they would visit. I realized that we weren’t friends. I unfriended. I think I know what Facebook is and I treat it as such. I get it and that’s why I have 50 friends.
Be conscious the next time Sally publishes ten pictures of her family, all out on a hillside, pumpkin picking with smiles as her hair fans with the wind. I guarantee you that Sally just finished screaming at them all to shut up and look happy for the camera. Don’t be fooled by the internet. It’s smoke and mirrors.
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