Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Friends Forever, or until further notice

Of all the ridiculous and alarmist articles I've read about Facebook, this one is particularly upsetting. Writing for O, The Oprah Magazine, Tim Jarvis writes:

Increasingly, if you're not plugged into a social network, you feel out of the loop. But as scientists start to study our newfound connectivity, some worry that we're heading for a massive friender-bender.

"It can be exhilarating, at least at first, to connect with long-lost friends," says network science expert Steven Strogatz, Ph.D., a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University.

But the downside, he worries, is growing confusion between our weak ties (people who might be useful in referring us to a good dentist or helping us find a job) and our strong ties (those we're very close to).

"The distinction between genuine friends and acquaintances is becoming blurred. Users are spending time maintaining relationships with people they don't really care about."

First of all, the dude is a professor of applied mathematics. 'Nough said.

But more importantly is this weak/strong tie distinction. Why is it so bad for the line between friends and acquaintances to become blurred? Right now, I don't have a whole lot of close friends in my area who I can hang out with. I'm out in the middle of suburbia. In order to connect to people I can either hop on the T for an hour or I can go online. On Facebook, if I comment on the post of someone who I haven't really seen in a long time, I don't consider it maintaining a relationship with someone I don't really care about. It isn't time wasted. Who knows who I might end up connecting with at a deeper level? What good would it do to burn those bridges?

The article then goes on to talk about how "Heavy reliance on the rapid intake of certain information -- especially in younger, developing minds -- could have consequences on our morality." Oh no! Think of the childrenz! The next generation is going to be completely unfeeling and immoral! So clearly the thing to do to avoid being unfeeling and immoral is to cut ties with people with whom we don't have "strong ties." Yes, mass un-friending is the key to future happiness.

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