It was my birthday a few weeks ago. Since I didn’t give Facebook my real birthdate (because I am apparently one of the only people left in the country who is at all concerned about my privacy), those who are my friends on Facebook do not get the reminder notification that my birthday is that week.
Without that notification, it’s up to my friends to actually remember my birthday with their brains and then choose to acknowledge it if they so choose.
This year, only one of my friends acknowledged my birthday – and she’s living in Paris right now, where I’m sure there are many other great things going on. This is not to say that none of my other friends remembered it, but only one let me know.
And this, I think, is where technology is taking us. Technology that many say are making the world smaller and bringing us closer together I would say is actually dividing us.
Technology is replacing quality with quantity. Some of us have 500, 1,000 and even 2,000 “friends.” But really, who the hell has 1,000 friends? It’s just like those who never turn down a LinkedIn invitation and have over 500 or 1,000 connections.
My question to those people is: Are those 500 connections really 500 people you trust and can count on for anything? I would submit the answer is “no,” which is why I constantly mine and update my LinkedIn connections to make sure it’s only populated with people I know and would recommend without hesitation.
Meanwhile, back at Facebook… those with their real birthdates in Facebook are having their upcoming birthdays shared with their friends via Facebook’s email notification. This leads to all sorts of nominal or incidental “friends” who are always on top of the birthday wishes. Do these easy and thoughtless Facebook birthday acknowledgements somehow raise one’s status up the friendship food chain.
It’s always met with the inevitable “thank you for all of the wonderful birthday wishes” Facebook comment, even though I’m much rather receive one email from someone who actually remembered mine versus 20 “friends” who were prompted.
It’s a similar affect that our phones are having on the need for us to remember important phone numbers. Steal someone’s phone and send them to jail and the only number they’d be able to call with their one phone call is 911.
But the Facebook affect is getting even worse than this. This past year, one of my very good friends who were expecting a child had it one month premature. But because I don’t routinely check Facebook, I had no idea for nearly two months after it was born.
Prior to Facebook, I probably would have received a call from either that friend or one of our mutual friends letting me know (more likely, one of our mutual friends). But now that people post things on Facebook, no one communicates with one another anymore. It is just assumed that since it’s on Facebook, everyone of consequence knows.
And friends don’t have incentive to talk or email about anything because they just assume you saw it on Facebook. Add texting to the mix and then think about how often it is you even receive a phone call from a friend who just wants to talk or check in.
I was talking to some friends about this recently and it dawned on both of them that to receive an actual phone call from a friend who just wants to talk is actually a little weird.
There’ve been several similar incidents – that I know of – in the past year. I just heard that a friend of mine’s wife had cancer – and apparently treated it – during the past year, all without my knowledge. It was on Facebook, so there’s probably just an assumption that I knew. Which brings up another problem…
If people post important news or information on Facebook and people they consider good friends don’t acknowledge it, is it assumed that the lack of acknowledgement is because they don’t care? When my friends posted about their baby and I didn’t send a note, a present or even a comment, did they think I was being thoughtless? Do they realize I had no idea?
How often is my not checking Facebook making me look like I don’t care?
My brother’s good friend of over 30 years was recently told he had cancer. It was two months before he mentioned it, in passing, to my brother. But he had posted it on his Facebook page right away. He told dozens, if not hundreds, of people who were, at best, acquaintences who were allowed to weigh in or share well-wishes, but my brother was in the dark.
I have always been a fan of quality over quantity. I’ve always considered myself to have few friends, but those who were I wouldn’t trade for anything, and I’d do anything for them – even if we hadn’t spoken in over a year.
Facebook and similar technologies are changing all of that. Now it’s quantity over quality.
To me, Facebook is the equivalent of Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is there to level the playing field. It’s to remind those who are less thoughtful toward their significant other that they should do something nice at least once during the year.
Similarly, Facebook allows us all to appear to be better friends with people than we really are. We can all chime in, thanks to reminders, on important occasions, but with no prompting, how much do all of those friends you have really know about you?
Reading this over before I post it makes me feel like I’m becoming a “this country’s falling apart” old guys. (And, of course, I am…) But I think there’s something to it, so I’m sharing it with the rest of you. Hoping it makes everyone take stock of their friendships and maybe encourages someone to make a phone call or stop by a friends house.
There’s still no substitute for the human touch.
- My name is Jon Friesch, and I would have rather told you this in person.