Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Day 21: Are all welcome at the table? Facebook edition

As I continue to think about inclusion and the gospel, I wonder how internet communities like Facebook differ or are the same. Facebook has caused a dilemma for me in that there is no distinction between types of friends. What I mean is, all 500 something of my Facebook friends are lumped into the same category, "friend," when what I'd really like is a hierarchy. Maybe something like:

1. Good friend. Friend whose page I want to visit every day, and whose status updates matter to me. I will look at their pictures, post comments on their wall, and actually call them once in awhile.

2. Friend. Someone I know well but not intimately, and want to keep up with them because they're funny, or cool, or I just enjoy seeing what they have to say.

3. Acquaintance. A person I like and don't mind seeing in the news feed on a daily basis.

4. Annoying acquaintance. The friend of a friend who plays Mafia Wars and posts status updates every minute about what they're watching on TV.

4. Old high school person who was a jerk back then but friended me anyway. Don't mind having them as a friend because it's the polite thing to do, but am not at all interested in their daily lives.

See that's the problem. Annoying Acquaintance and Old High School are easy to avoid in real life, but on the internet, 'de-friending' someone is a serious act. There is no really graceful way to do it. I have one relationship with a man at church in which our mutual dislike is so strong we don't even look at each other when we pass, but we are still Facebook friends. Yet something keeps me from making the "de-friend" move. Is it a thread of hope that reconciliation is possible? Or is it our inability to draw those boundaries with people.

Ann Lamott spoke in Atlanta a few years back and I was fortunate enough to be there. She was adamant that we should surround ourselves with people who lift up our spirits rather than those who use us or take our energy away. She said it was a waste of time to be with people whom we don't enjoy and in whose presence we do not grow and learn. She encourged us to clear our calendars of meetings with those types of people and move on.

I thought that was pretty harsh when I first heard the statement, but I do see the wisdom in it. As our lives become more and more complicated, does it not make sense to go for quality in relationships, rather than quantity? And taking that a bit further, when was the last time you were able to sit and talk to a good friend for as long as the conversation lasted, rather than looking at your watch and worrying about making it to your next appointment? Is it worth reducing the amount of "get-togethers" we have so that the ones that really matter can become deep and meaningful.

And thinking about Facebook, could weeding out "annoying acquaintance and Old High School from your friend list improve the quality of that community?


  1. Judicious use of the "hide" function can smooth over some of these problems, especially with Annoying Acquaintance or Old High School Jerk. You may miss a little bit from them, but on balance it's a win.

    I've hidden one person we both know reasonably well and liked back when. As a mutual friend explained, "As for X, Party Apologist - it both boggles and it doesn't. Part of X's charm is his in-the-moment enthusiasm. He loved every girl he dated--while dating them--and he's same way with a cause or even an argument that would be best left as intellectual exercise. I've seen him argue both sides of an issue, spread out over 4-5 months and have zero awareness he's doing so. Like any of us, X's vision suffers when he's engulfed by a issue. Unlike many of us, though, X usually only addresses issues that engulf him, if that makes sense."

    The tricky part of Lamott's approach, I suspect, is in the "grow and learn" part. (On the other hand, and as a practical matter, I think I have about half as many FB friends as you do, so it's somewhat more manageable.)

  2. Email me and tell me who person X is. It's making me crazy!! But I can guess who made the statement about X. You're right, the grow and learn part is tricky, because it is precisely those annoying people or the ones we feel at odds with who help us grow and learn.

    Sadly, I've learned from a recent church skirmish between us and folks of a different political persuasion that it is next to impossible to reconcile after heated debate, even if everyone apologizes. Words stick, and forgiveness is not for the faint of heart.