My friend Neil invited me to join Facebook a few days ago, so out of curiosity to see his profile, I signed up. After a few clicks, I'd also managed to e-mail a list of people to tell them I wanted them to be my "Friends." Unfortunately, I didn't realize until too late that I didn't scroll through entire list, so I have no idea who I e-mailed. Having gotten my clicks, Facebook isn't telling. The only record I have is that I get little notices if someone accepts my (pathetic) bid for friendship that says that say that Such-and-such and Cynthia are now Friends.
Not unlike the third grade, making a new friend gives you a weird little thrill. It's like when I was 10 and wondering if Clare or Alicia would invite me into their clubs. I yearned to be a ChickieWishies with their purple hats, or a member of the Kraaackle Club. (Alas, neither did invite me.)
Facebook offers the thrill of the clique. And with it I find the same youthful (read: neurotically immature) anxiety too. Will we be BFF (best friends forever)? Or, worse, have I inadvertently asked someone I barely know to be my friend? Who in my address book already has a Facebook account, and made it into the mass mailing?
Facebook isn't my first foray into social networking. LinkedIn is the grownup business version of Facebook, so they use the term "connections," rather than "friends." Perhaps in the business world, no one is really your friend. But over in Facebook-land, many happy extroverted souls have hundreds of friends. In my case, on a good day, maybe I can come up with the names of a few hundred people I actually know. But friends? No way. Then again, my friends are more than connections to get me jobs. Perhaps I'm just uneasy with labels.
I've had my LinkedIn account for a couple years, and until this week, I never sent out any invitations. I figured, if I'm having a big social networking moment and doing the Facebook thing, I might as well do LinkedIn too. Over in my neglected LinkedIn account, I have accumulated a strange assortment of Connections. One is a woman I met once when I took care of her cat. Another is someone I haven't seen or spoken to in years, although I did see her every Sunday for four months while we were training for a marathon. (Usually she was off in the distance, since she's a much faster runner than I am.)
Most exciting, however, and the reason I'm glad I have the LinkedIn account, is the recent reappearance of a friend from high school. This person really is a friend, and is someone I'd lost track of over the years. Since I'd originally opened the LinkedIn account in a (failed) effort to dig up someone from my past, it was lovely to have it come full circle and finally actually result in a happy re-connection. To me, that is the great advantage of the sites: finding people you thought you'd lost.
Still, on both sites, I find that I'm at loath to actually fill out anything on my profile beyond basic identifying information. I haven't posted pictures or filled in my job history; I haven't listed my favorite bands or books or favorite anything actually. For a few days, I felt bad about the fact that I haven't put myself out there, as if I've let down my adoring fans or friends or connections or whoever they are.
This morning, however, I woke up with the realization that, well, it's all a big crock. The moment I start creating the profile, I begin creating a character or a persona. This persona isn't any more true to who I really am than, well, my resume or my own personal website (which I put up during a job search years ago). In other words, all the facts are accurate, but the selection is skewed, since it only shows my successes.
For instance, my resume completely skips over the three measly months I spent in my last job, where I hated being trapped in a cubicle so much that I fled. Similarly, on an online profile, I'm not going to mention my failed engagement or my embarrassing taste for bad TV. I suppose on Facebook, I might mention that I now walk dogs for a living, even though I can't comfortably put that little factoid on my professional resume.
Social networking is, in large measure, more marketing and self-promotion. As such, it is all about the numbers of people you can reach, not the quality of those connections. I am a colossally bad sales person, but in real life, I'm an interested and reliable friend. Online, as in real life, I'm terrible at small talk and basically introverted.
In some ways, the Internet is perfect for people like me. I can quietly hide behind my keyboard as I anonymously surf for information, post to support networks, and lurk on the edges of things. I can sit by and watch as the brave extroverts post all their information. When my name is all over the Internet, I clam up, fearing the judgment of the masses. I worry about exposing my failures or even my own simple tastes that might not conform to some level of "cool."
I should emphasize: it is brave, walking out on the social networking stage, adopting your character and playing it through, and making the most of it. I don't put myself out there, because, as in real life, I'm shy and suffer from stagefright But many Facebook and LinkedIn profiles are entertaining and informative, created by people who have clearly had fun with the whole process. Some of those brave folks are even my Friends or Connections or both. I may not be all out there myself, and I may never have been a ChickieWishie, but I've got cool friends.As the saying goes: I've got connections.