Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Facebook Friend:


I remember early in my blogging days being asked by Poetry Ireland - I think that was the occasion - to talk about blogging. What kind of communication was it? Was it a diary? Was it a commentary? Was it essays? Was it a forum for discussion? Was it a column in an invisible newspaper? And if you decide which of these it is should you write in a style appropriate to the established form?

It can be all of these things, of course, and I am less concerned with trying to define blogs here then briefly to reflect on the nature of virtual friendship in Facebook. Blogstyles vary, and though I have glanced at a couple of sites with hints how to develop your blog I have ignored all the hints (keep it short, stick to one subject etc) and just carried on writing about whatever happened to interest me, primarily because I like writing and seeing where words will take me, and partly because I suspect people might read something merely because it is well written. So writing well and writing fast is an incentive - a rather good incentive for a writer. Then people get to know you and you seem to add up to a person, and they come along as persons, and you talk on the comment board,

Interestingly, over on Facebook, I seem to have something over two-thousand friends. That simply means I have said yes to a lot of people who asked to be friends. Some I have met, most I haven't. Some I am more likely to meet because they write books or magazines or poems, some because I do. Some are catching up after years of absence. Some want to talk occasionally, some just to make contact, some to 'network' in the hope of making things happen, some to inform likely others of events. Some because they like your face or because they like something you've said. (I do get asked to respond to poems and I sometimes do though it's hard.) I very rarely do any requesting myself, though occasionally I take up suggestions from those I have already befriended. I don't request because I am not sure what I would be requesting for.

There is a simple formal way to request a friendship on FB. People just pick a name they fancy befriending and press a button. The request arrives and you can confirm or refuse. Occasionally the requesters come with a message to introduce themselves, but most of the time they don't. If you are curious to know something about a potential friend, you might click on the name of the person to go to their profile page that carries some information. But a lot don't.

And this is the strange thing. I am fully aware of the fact that a Facebook Friend isn't like a friend in the sense one makes friends in offline life. I think of Facebook as a place where people demonstrate interest and friendliness with each other. It is not impossible such people may meet sometimes, or that warm relationships, like corresponding friendships might arise. Personally I like it as a place of brief meetings, a kind of park you pass through where you exchange one liners or share news or wave a banner or make an enigmatic remark. It's rather nice that way.

But it's the silent requests, those with minimal profiles that are the strange ones. A brief introduction is better than silence if you want friendship. The silence may be a matter of the medium itself not yet having settled down to its forms of address, to its table manners and dress-codes. Because such things always develop in societies.

All media develop languages and relationship of their own. McLuhan had this right, I think. That little blue and white rectangle with its name and request appears, you click on it and open on to a profile page and the space for short conversations. Short sharp touch and go. Facebook is primarily a light medium, more comedy than tragedy, more grins and shrugs than tears and silence.


Mrs Crocodile said...

Thanks George, I look forward to smiling and saying hello as I walk by you at the facebook park again one sunny someday...
Mrs Crocodile

George S said...

I hope you will bring all the baby crocs with you, Mrs Crocodile. There might be a decent playground there and we could chat while they play.

I know the advice is never to smile at a crocodile but you are talking to someone who once played Captain Hook in Peter Pan. What's another hook to a man like that?

looby said...

I've just come off Facebook. I found organising discrete registers of intimacy quite difficult, that is, unless you leave it quite light and casual, as you suggest. But that in itself rankles against me. I'm bad at keeping conversation in very general, anecdotal terms, or at least, that feels wrong with people I'd call friends.

And less nobly, I found to my cost that it provides you with an excellent medium for making a tit of yourself in public.

George S said...

Facebook is a series of remarks and references, I think, Looby. Not a great place for serious discussion most of the time, though it can highlight a cause, organise support and point people to interesting matters elsewhere through a link.

It's like a party. I like dropping in at parties, and I quite like hosting them, but I never want to stick around for long. Everyone can make a tit of themselves, but, as at a party, that is soon forgotten. I am not a 24 hour party person (that is a picture of hell for me) and it sounds as though you're not one either. Walk in and walk out whenever you fancy. You don't have to bring a bottle or cake or flowers.

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