Friday, May 9, 2014

Friends in a Digital World

I've been told throughout my life that I don't have many friends. I'm certainly not one to mind being characterized in that way, but I started wondering if that is actually true, or even if there is a tiny bit of truth to a statement of that nature.

I'm sure there are lots of people in my neighbourhood, in Ottawa, in Canada, and in the world who have a fear or open dislike of personal or social interactions in one form or another. I wouldn't say that my thoughts go that far, but I can say with almost complete assurance that I often find menial social interactions (small talk, etc.) unnecessary, to the point that I would rather say nothing in some social situations than to try to pointlessly fill time with chit-chat with anybody I have nothing in common with.

I am much more comfortable in social interactions with only one or two other people. Perhaps this means I'm on the very low end of the autism spectrum, who knows. When I am in larger groups, I tend to stick to engaging in conversations with the people I already know than to branch out and meet new people. It doesn't help that I know I have a bad habit of trying to pay attention to conversation and immediately forgetting people's names as I am introduced to them. Having said that, it's worth noting that a lot of the things I find pleasurable (obscure TV shows, a majority of pop music, web design, video production, writing, science and learning, etc.) are things that I don't have in common with most people, and so I find it easier to keep them to myself than to bring them up in conversation or to try to get to know new people.

In fact, a good majority of the people I encounter in my day-to-day life are what I would consider acquaintances, and are not friends by most strict definitions. I don't really know too much about what is going on in their lives, and they don't really know much about me outside of the time we spend together (in sports, work, leisure, etc.).

That brings me around to the main point of writing this. With social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, etc., etc., etc., what does it mean to be friends with somebody?

I have a strong feeling in my gut that when I let someones friendship request on Facebook sit "pending", it affects my relationship with that person. Most people I talk to would see it as a slap in the face if I don't accept their "friendship" immediately, and this is such a tightly engrained part of the human condition that there is literally a stigma associated with "un-friending" somebody on Facebook.

Personally, I don't use Facebook's friends list feature as a measure of my association with a person. I know plenty of people I see regularly and spend time with who I have never considered being "friends" with, and all of my current "friends" are really only grandfathered in since I started to allow people to follow my Facebook feed without actually being my friend (something Facebook allowed starting in 2012, like Google+). Since I use Facebook to post updates publicly, like Twitter (you have the choice of your audience every time you post something, like Google+) I don't actually need the concept of "friends" on Facebook, and in fact I don't use Facebook that way.

If not for Facebook Messenger (which will apparently start indexing the contents of your private messages now, so there's that) I wouldn't use Facebook at all, but I still don't want to alienate people. I post all kinds of content on Google+, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, on this blog, and across the internet in 100s of places. If you want to see what I'm doing on the Internet, or send me a message via IM, email, video chat, anything, you are free to do so. Please don't think that my not accepting your "friend request" on Facebook means that I don't want to interact with you online, or that I don't want to get to know you better. I just think there are better ways to keep my digital life and social connections organized, and you're welcome to follow me (sending me a friend request also automatically subscribes you to what I post on Facebook), and if you have followers enabled (from the link) maybe I'll follow you back. Send me a message on Hangouts at +Rob Attrell.

If we're friends in real life, that can be enough. We don't need to prove it on Facebook.

I have more to say on real life vs. digital friendships, but I'll save it for another day.

While you're at it, don't forget to check out the latest video on my new YouTube Channel, +Attrell Update! Hope you like it!