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Facebook | Has Facebook Changed the Definition of the Word 'Friend'?
© Copyright 2011 Tracy Lynn Conway with all rights reserved.
Before Facebook, my definition of the word “friend” was someone that you knew and spent face-to-face time with; this person usually shared your interests or genuinely cared about you.
A friend of a friend was not a “friend” and an acquaintance was someone that you knew.
Before Facebook, people didn’t keep track of how many friends they had. With the number of Facebook users reaching above a staggering 600 million, more and more people care about the number of friends they have for the sake of competition and as a way, it seems, to inflate their egos. This is because Facebook displays and keeps a count of your friends which is shown on the users profile page.
Webster dictionary describes a “friend” as "a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard."
It is interesting to compare the Mexican Folk Art circle of friends, which is based on intimacy, with the facebook friend wheel, (see below) which is based on volume and popularity.
The legend of the Circle of friends says that at the end of the evening, friends would gather around the fire and share their hearts. They would each speak of the good qualities of others. It was said that if they shared memories while the embers faded, their friendship was sealed, bringing them closer together.
Wikipedia offers a more expansive definition:
Friendship is a form of interpersonal relationship generally considered to be closer than association, although there is a range of degrees of intimacy in both friendships and associations.
Value that is found in friendships is often the result of a friend demonstrating the following on a consistent basis:
The tendency to desire what is best for the other
Sympathy and empathy
Honesty, perhaps in situations where it may be difficult for others to speak the truth, especially in terms of pointing out the perceived faults of one's counterpart
Mutual understanding and compassion
Trust in one another (able to express feelings - including in relation to the other's actions - without the fear of being judged); able to go to each other for emotional support
Positive reciprocity - a relationship is based on equal give and take between the two parties.
Unless you are an avid social butterfly or a politician looking for votes, how in the world can you actively maintain 500 friendships? Keeping a count of friends turns an intimate experience of relating with people into a competitive sport. This is a mechanical way of viewing relationships and pulls us away from caring about the value of each friendship.
Webster's Dictionary defines an acquaintance as "a person known to one, usually a person with whom one is not on terms of great intimacy."
Wikipedia states this about acquaintances:
Acquaintance: a friend, but sharing of emotional ties isn't present. An example would be a coworker with whom you enjoy eating lunch or having coffee, but would not look to for emotional support. Many "friends" that appear on social networking sites are generally acquaintances in real life.
Scientific research shows that our brain can only remember a certain amount of names and that when we make new friends we start to forget the names of friends we are in less contact with. Oxford professor of evolutionary psychology Robin Dunbar claims that 150 is the maximum number of social relationships any human can handle.
The truth is that many of these facebook friends are really acquaintances or former friends. Instead of facebook reflecting real life, it has created its own pseudo life with the image of lots of friends when in reality only some of these are real friends.
I met a woman at an art school who told me that she signed up for an art class to make more real life friends and felt lonelier even after acquiring a large number of Facebook friends.
A former senior platform manager at Facebook created what has been considered an anti-social network called Path, which limits users to just 50 friends. This is meant to counteract the lack of intimacy on social networks like facebook. It is believed that with 50 friends you can express more closely who you really are.
It saddens me to think of friendship in terms of a number to compare with others. In my life, I try to focus on quality rather than quantity, I happen to have around 150 Facebook friends which coincides with Dunbar's number. Out of the 150 friends, a much smaller number of these are close friends, the rest are acquaintances and former friends.