Nov 28, 2010

How Many Friends Have I Really Got?

Facebook recently introduced their version of email, pointedly called "not-email" which is intended to let users talk with their friends in real time via email, text, IM and messaging.

A noble attempt, but one i suspect is doomed to fail. That's because it's all but impossible to separate out our "friends" from the rest of the people we know. This is not a technology issue, it's a psychology issue: people we consider friends may only consider us acquaintances and vice versa. And once we open up that can of worms, we're talking about a group much larger than our actual friends.

Remember Plaxo? It was a LinkedIn style platform that tried to get us to segregate our friends into three seemingly easy groupings: Friends, Work and Family. Only it wasn't so easy. One day you got an invitation from Bob, who you considered a casual work acquaintance, asking you to connect as a friend. Fair enough. You were likely flattered that Bob considered you a friend. But if Bob was listed as a friend, then Arun, Maria, Dave and Kevin, all of whom you had listed as work connections, needed to be made "friends" since you were certainly closer to them than you were to Bob, and it wouldn't make sense to have him as a Friend and them as mere co-workers.

And that's the problem: friendship is never as simple as a math equation. The people most of us consider friends rarely have us on an equivalent plane of friendship. So the potential for hurt feelings is quite high. And the second I give my Facebook email to an acquaintance is the second its value as a communication device with my inner circle diminishes in value 100%.

It's human nature and I'm not sure if technology can fix it. The best bet seems to be to maintain various levels of communication and allow water (or friendship) to seek its own level. That way we're not forced to declare our level of friendship with someone based on our communication vehicle.

A bit more complicated, no doubt, but ultimately less stressful.

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