We’re friends on Facebook

The first thing I do in the morning? The last thing I do before bed? The one thing I do obsessively throughout the day? I check my Facebook.

For those unfamiliar with this Internet phenomenon, Facebook is a website that allows users to set up a free personal web space where they can provide a little sketch of their life. They put together a profile page outlining their favourite TV shows, books and quotes with little blurbs about themselves explaining where they work or go to school, pictures, blogs and personalized message boards known as ‘walls.’ With a completed profile, Facebookers can add themselves to networks of other profiles that share some geographical or organizational coincidence. Users then scour Facebook searching for “friends,” and when they find one they add them to a “friends list,” but not before that friendship is confirmed by the solicited party. To confirm the friend, the beseeched Facebooker must not only agree to knowing this person, but may also define their relationship, explaining where they first met and what they’ve done together. Once added, Facebookers can see their new friend’s profile page, as well as their “friends list,” meaning you can see and add more people, and it goes on and on and on…

Facebook etiquette has evolved with the popularity of the site, which boasts 17 million members. For instance, the “poke” is a function that allows you to give someone a little indication that you’re around without actually adding them as a “friend,” although its significance is still somewhat lost on me.

There’s also the awkward situation of running across an old pal you’ve fallen out with. You’d like to add them as a friend, but to avoid looking desperate or somehow admitting that said falling out was entirely your fault, you wait to see if they’ll add you. Of course, they’re thinking the same thing, so it becomes a socially-paralyzing game of Facebook chicken, seeing who will cave first.

As inane as this may seem, I’m addicted. Logging in every 15 minutes to make sure I have no new messages, friend requests or any updated profiles to peruse. I can examine every one of the 47 drunken pictures taken at the 23rd birthday party of some guy I’ve never met, since he happens to be dating a girl I once danced with at a junior high party.

When I’m not on Facebook, I’m thinking about Facebook. I go around asking everyone I know whether or not they’re Facebooking. My pockets are full of e-mail addresses written down on napkins and scrap paper. When my Internet was down last week I had to fight back tears.

The bigger question here is why? I calculate that every one of my 37 current Facebook friends is someone I’ve seen in person in the last three years. If I don’t already have their phone numbers, I know where I could get them. If I were to call them, I am confident I could arrange a face-to-face meeting with them by the weekend.

Despite that, I don’t call them. I’ll gladly look at their pictures and see what kind of bands they’re into, but I can’t find more time and space in my already-busy life for more face-to-face interaction with these people.

Voyeurism is a big part of the appeal. Living in the Internet age, our generation views information as a right, not a privilege. While Wikipedia is full of useful, essay-padding facts on Shakespeare, it’s a worthless social tool. On the other hand, Facebook allows me to research my acquaintances. I get answers to questions I’ve never thought of asking. It’s not as if I couldn’t inquire which quotes my classmates find inspiring, it’s just that I never had because I don’t really care. When I’m on Facebook, however, that information seems important–I even get angry when lazy people don’t fill out their profiles in their entirety.

In addition to the voyeuristic appeal, Facebook’s charm also lies in its tidiness. When I login and pull up my profile I can see all the things that make me who I am. My picture is what I look like. My interests are what I enjoy. My blog entries are my thoughts. My wall messages are my conversations. My friends are my friends.

When I login, my computer stares back at me and says, “Andrew Barbero, this is your life.”

And what’s life without friends? “Friend” is a very ambiguous term when it comes to Facebook. How many of my Facebook “friends” are really people I would consider friends? All of them? Probably not. Half? That might even be pushing it. When I need help moving, I’m not sure many of my “friends” are going to step up.

At the end of the day, Facebook is not a social activity, although it may be construed as such. Facebook means sitting at home alone in front of my laptop, reading about and staring at all the people I know, always separated by real time and virtual distance. But in the face of that pervasive isolation and loneliness, I’m always just a click away from seeing my “friends”–the people who thought enough about me to confirm the fact that I knew them. They’re all sitting there–a gallery of smiling faces arranged alphabetically that always make me feel better, even though that really shouldn’t be the case.

Why do I need to see a list of my friends to know they’re my friends?

The reason is simple and slightly heartbreaking. I’ve talked to all these people before and in those conversations we’ve covered a lot of ground, but we’ve never said it. Between us–the 37 of us–we’ve never formed the words “you’re my friend.” Facebook forces us to realize and to verbalize it. There’s something affirming in a simple statement like that and something addicting about knowing who your friends are. It’s always been there–Facebook just forced us to see it.

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