Last week, after much peer pressure from Sandy Hubbard and Jeannette Baer, I worked to get an invite to come into my inbox, and I joined up with Google Plus. I had been wanting to wait a bit to see if the buzz about Google+ was going to remain hot and heavy for say, a month or so. I’m not really an early adopter type of person. But Sandy and Jeannette are trusted friends and they said I should try it, so, I did.
I’m kind of having a problem with Google+ to be honest with you. It’s not anything privacy-related. It’s not a huge issue, perhaps. But ya see, on Google+, as you make contact with people, you can put them in a “circle.” It’s like categorizing people. When you start out you have a friends circle, an acquaintances circle, a family circle, and I think there’s one more too. When I see that people have added me to their circles, I feel a sort of obligation to indicate that I see their existence there, but I’ve pretty much just been stuffing everyone into my “friends” circle. I don’t want to go through the trouble of categorizing people, and I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings who uses the word “friend” differently than I do.
The whole process has made me think about the word “friend” as it exists in real life and as it exists in the online world, so I thought maybe we could talk about that and see where you come out on this issue.
We shook hands. We’re friends now.
When I was in fifth grade, I was going through kind of a rough time. I had been going to a private school and had met all of those kids when I was in nursery school. I think there were 62 kids total in my school when I left. When I was in fourth grade, I had some health problems that required a surgery. Both of my paternal grandparents passed away, 6 months to the day from each other. By the time I was getting ready for my first day of public school in fifth grade, I felt pretty darned scared. These kids had all known each other since at least kindergarden. I was an interloper, and not only that, but I was a tinier than normal interloper. Meeting people with confidence was not easy, and befriending people was a puzzle I couldn’t seem to fit together.
Let’s just say that I didn’t get invited to a whole lot of birthday parties when I was in fifth grade.
Because I had such a hard time breaking into the social stream (trying to do so when everyone is hitting puberty is also interesting) I highly over-valued positive interactions I had with other kids. If someone smiled at me, I felt sure we were friends. Anyone who was remotely pleasant, in fact, became a friend of mine, at least from my point of view.
As you might imagine and guess, my expectations of these people who I had deemed friends far exceeded what they felt obligated to do. They had nodded at me. I was buying BFF necklaces. There was a strong disconnect there. I had devalued the concept of “friend” so that literally anyone could be one.
I tell this story because I’m a little worried that social media, or the online existence we are all here using, is doing the same thing to the “friend” concept that I did in fifth grade. We are using the word “friend” so much that it is beginning to lose its meaning.
Back to Google Plus
So, I sign in to Google+ and I find out that a couple of women I went to college with are on there. I have known both of them for probably, gosh, 15 years now. I lived in the same dorm as them. Ate most of my meals with them for a good year or more. We saw each other go through pretty icky stuff, and we also watched each other go through pretty cool and awesome stuff.
I put them in my “friends” circle.
Then there are people who I just adore talking to online. Some of these folks I have had the pleasure of talking with in real life on the phone. Others have been there to cheer me up or offer me advice when stuff in the online world didn’t seem to be going too well. I would never want to put those folks into a category called “acquaintances” because they have been too supportive to merit that kind of “barely know you” group. On the other hand, and I say this with all love and respect, it’s not quite the same with them as it is with my college friends.
The problem I’m struggling with is that in the online world, those kinds of nuances are awfully hard to clarify. Are you my online friend? Sure, but if you’ve offered me kindness or legitimate support, that doesn’t seem quite accurate. But it’s different from those folks you’ve interacted with for years and years. How can you name a circle so that all of that becomes clear?
The online world is, in the end, very 2-dimensional. It’s very black or white. On Facebook, you’re either friends or you’re not. But it’s just not like that in the real world.
What do you think?
So I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Are we using the word “friend” too freely in the online world? Does it mean something else now? If you are on Google+ or are planning to join, how would you “circle” people?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
This is post #82 in the Engagement Series. If you like these posts and don’t want to miss one (ever!!!) please feel free to hit the subscribe button!
Image by Michal Zacharzewski. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/mzacha