What is a Friend?

One of the things I’m trying to do for the new year is reduce increase my signal to noise ratio. Facebook and Twitter both can end up having a lot of noise and very little signal. The problem with reducing this ratio on Facebook is that you end up having to decide who you want to keep as your “friends.”

I really hate Facebook’s decision to use the term friend because they cause us to view everyone as friends, even though in most cases they are acquaintances and in many cases we don’t even know them. So in order to reduce my friends, I had to start categorizing them and using those categories to determine who to keep and who to drop.

So in the same spirit as Stuff Christians Like (a great satire site), here are seven categories of people you are friends with on Facebook that aren’t actually friends.

1. Family

Why is it that you feel obligated to accept friend requests from every family member no matter how distant and no matter what age? Isn’t it a little awkward to have your sixteen year old third cousin as a friend? You’ve never met the person, but because they have the same genes, they get to be your friend. I’m 40, so if you’re under 18, I’m sorry, you can’t be my friend. That’s just awkward. And if I’ve never actually met you, the fact that we are related shouldn’t be a reason to have you as my friend.

2. High School Classmates

Before Facebook, we relied on classmates.com to keep us apprised of everything our classmates were doing. With Facebook, we have a no cost solution for EVERY person in our entire graduating class (and in some cases the class before and the class after) to stay in touch with us. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know every person in my graduating class, let alone my school. So why does every person that went to high school with me feel like they have to be my friend? If I can’t identify you in my yearbook, I’m sorry, but you’re gone.

3. College Alumni

Of course Facebook was invented for college students, so if you are in college or just graduated from college, of course you’re going to have every single person you ever met at any party or in any class as a friend on Facebook. But if you went to college before the invention of Facebook you probably have a small group of people that you remember from college, some of whom you probably still see. But if you went to my college and I don’t still know who you are, I’m probably not that interested in your day to day life.

4. People you work with

Why do we feel obligated to friend everyone we work with or everyone we’ve ever worked with on Facebook? We already know that Facebook costs people jobs. And it can certainly affect your potential to get new jobs. And what about people from companies you don’t even work for anymore? Unless you still talk to those folks at least once a month, they were never your friends. They were just your coworkers. I know what you’re saying, “I keep them as contacts in case I need a job or referral later.” Why would someone who you haven’t talked to in two years refer you for a job? Besides, that’s what Linkedin is for. Unless I’ve talked to you in the past month, you were probably a coworker. I’m sorry.

6. Famous people

This one is hard. There’s some sort of mystique in being friends with a famous person before that had to switch to using a fan page. Like you’re in some sort of club or something. Here’s a clue though – famous people probably don’t even maintain their own Facebook page. And they don’t even know they are your friend. And when you are their friend and their fan, you get twice the updates! Just pick one and stick with it. You won’t hurt their feelings if you stop being their friend.

6. Complete strangers

This one is weird. There are people I am friends with and I have absolutely no idea who they are. We have no friends in common, I don’t recognize their picture and they live in a place I’ve never been. Maybe we met at a conference or something, but they’re certainly not my friend. I’m sorry, but unless I actually know who you are, you’re probably not my friend.

7. People who you go to church with

This one isn’t true for everyone, but it’s true for me. When you go to church with someone, they friend you on Facebook. That’s cool, they’re people you see every week and it’s nice to know what’s going on in their lives, but what do you do when you move or go to a different church? They’re not really people you see anymore, but it seems strange to unfriend every person who goes to a specific church. If you’re not keeping up with them after leaving the church, it’s probably time to let them go.

So I guess what we need is some sort of criteria to decide what a friend is on Facebook. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

If I’ve seen you in the past week, or talked to you in the past month, or you’re the kind of person I can call anytime day or night and it’s as if we just talked yesterday, you’re my friend on Facebook. Or if you’re a person that when I look at your name I think, I wish we had a better relationship, you’re going to stay my friend on Facebook.

And to all of my Facebook friends, I love you all individually and never categorized YOU into any one of these lists. Really. What, you don’t see my status updates anymore? I’m sure it was just an accident.

What are some other categories of people you’re friends with on Facebook?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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9 thoughts on “What is a Friend?

  1. In the first sentence of your post, you say you are trying to reduce your signal to noise ratio, but most likely you are trying to increase it. signal=numerator, noise=denominator.

  2. Perhaps you have a different relationship with co-workers than I do, but in most cases, the people I work with *are* friends. Not necessarily close friends that I routinely see outside of the office, but still people I’m interested in keeping in contact with, in seeing what they’re doing these days…

  3. I wish I had a website like this to “express myself” to those who were truly interested, and not just FB Friends. Now, regarding – “What is a Friend? … to me a friend is someone I truly care about, and who truly cares about me. This is someone that I wouldn’t hesitate to call if I were in a jam of some sort, or needed prayer for some cause or issue I have. This is also someone I enjoy doing things with and for. I believe that to have a friend is to be a friend … with all that comes with that distinction. There wouldn’t necessarily need to be constant contact – just that feeling that when we engaged again in someway, it would feel like there was no time in between.

  4. When you want to increase your signal/noise ratio, is this just the newsfeed or also other parts of the site? For the newsfeed (and events), you can block specific people and apps from appearing in your feed. Just mouse over the news story and click the little x in the top right corner.

    • I find blocking specific people in your newsfeed to be more offensive than unfriending them. Basically what you are saying is “you’re my friend, but I’m not interested in anything you do or say.”

  5. Your list actually contains seven categories. 🙂

    I’d exclude famous people and complete strangers from my friends (but they aren’t listed as friends on Facebook, either — I have blocked the handful or so of the latter, assuming I didn’t completely fail to recognize them, as they’ve occurred). But everyone else you list, sure. My standard is this: I recognize your name and face, and we may have talked from time to time. Perhaps I talked more, perhaps less. But it’s enough where I could imagine meeting again and not drawing a blank seeing the person.

    Regarding my excluded categories, it probably helps that I don’t regularly use Facebook. It’s a way to keep tabs on people for me, but I don’t mind keeping around people I know or knew somewhat, haven’t seen in awhile, or even just barely met (somewhat depending on context). It’s no skin off my nose, and it’s helpful if I’m traveling or so and want to see if anyone I know is in the area to visit. Different modes of interaction, I guess — I’m not bothered by keeping record of stationary or somewhat-declining friendships, but you seem to be.

  6. I have found an easier and more effective strategy: stop paying any attention to Facebook. There are a lot of communications tools on the internet (email, newsgroups/mailing lists, IM, µblogs, …) I just have no need for whatever it is Facebook thinks they bring to the table. People on it seem to use it as a µblog solution so I syndicate mine there for their reading pleasure.