Irritated, I sighed and glanced at my mother. I had shared my latest post on social media, Egypt, and (my) pseudo-activism on Facebook. And no one had commented.
I sifted through my Facebook feed. Ah, yes! Somebody just checked in at the dry cleaners. A handful of “likes” earned, naturally. And oh, look! Someone ate a ham sandwich that was really good. A thread, ten comments deep, was generated.
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
“Are my friends on Facebook as apathetic and uninspired as I think they are?” I asked my mother. I could tell she understood where this question was coming from, but she couldn’t formulate a response.
And that was fine. Because I couldn’t quite figure it out, either.
The Hunt for Stimulation
On Monday morning, I shared part one of this series on virtual life, The Evolution of Friendship, on Twitter. Ten minutes later, a few bloggers retweeted the link. Shortly after, as I was getting ready for work, more followers shared it. And on my drive to Oakland, even more joined in on the blog-post-sharing love.
Why was it well-received on Twitter? We’re talking about friendships in an online age: The topic is fascinating. It’s relevant. It’s sexy. It’s now. As I suspected, my “friends” on Twitter, many of whom I have never met in real life, think about it, get it, and embrace it.
I also shared the post on Facebook, a different network of people (and readership). Later that morning, I logged on to see what was said.
And . . . nothing. No red notifications and—not even!—any “likes.”
Disinterest, as usual. I was not surprised.
* * *
Are people not interested in engaging in intellectual, thoughtful conversations on Facebook? A day after I posted my Egypt piece, I expressed my discontent on Twitter because I sensed these folks would understand my frustration.
And they did.
So, what’s going on?
The Compartmentalization of Friendship
First, here’s how Facebook and Twitter have evolved for me: 93 percent of my connections on Facebook (216 people out of 232) are people I know and have met in the flesh: friends, family members, graduate school buddies, co-workers, and childhood classmates. Three (the Compression DJ crew, the Junglist Militia, and the City of San Mateo) are entities. Sixteen are individuals I’ve never met but who share an interest in travel (freelancers). Based on my connections, Facebook is a relatively accurate reflection of my social and personal life in the real world.
Here’s the breakdown of people on Twitter whom I’ve met in the flesh, given the 78 handles I follow:
- “Traditional” friends: 6
- MFA classmates: 3
- Trazzler team: 3
- Travel bloggers: 8
The remaining 58? No intersections in real life. Yet. As for my 600+ followers, the percentage I regularly engage with is small. Still, the thoughtful interactions I have on Twitter, driven by ideas and mutual passions, are noticeably more frequent than on Facebook.
So, back to the question: are people on Facebook—the friends of my real world—an uninspired lot? Certainly not. Yet the type of interaction I have on Facebook is alarmingly shallow and intellectually dull. My mother and I pondered why, and maybe the lack of engagement has more to do with Facebook itself rather than those who populate it. Perhaps it’s the portal of mundanity: a space to gossip, to complain, to find others who agree with your complaints, to waste time, and to compare the fetuses of your pregnant friends—isn’t that why people post sonogram photos?—rather than to disseminate and be stimulated by ideas (and subsequently stir the pot).
Facebook is the sofa in my family room, right in front of the TV.
* * *
At present, these two mini-universes—Facebook and Twitter—continue to divide my life in a way I cannot control. As time passes, I grow distant from the population on Facebook. I crave something on a daily basis—worldly inspiration?—that I’m unable to find there. And because Facebook is, by default, the outlet connecting me to my “real” friends, the disconnect I’m experiencing is dangerous. While I can count the friends I physically see on a regular basis on one hand, what does that mean for the other connections I have—the insipid ones that float in a virtual black hole because, well, we added each other and haven’t talked to each other since?
I feel alienated from friends on Facebook as a whole because we simply co-exist, without interaction, in the same online space; the more I engage with and share ideas and creative work with “friends” on Twitter, the more my “real” but idle friendships on Facebook disintegrate.
It comes down to compartmentalization. I find myself filing my friendships and relationships, online and off, into tidy drawers—did you not see my bulleted list above?! Yet as I do this, gingerly and methodically, “friendship” becomes more elusive as “real” and “virtual” continues to collide.
This is my experience. Is yours different?
Other Parts in this Virtual Life Series:
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part I: The Evolution of Friendship
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part III: Nomadic Relationships
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part IV: On Unplugging & Merging Virtual and Real
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part V: Proximity & Physical Space
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part VI: Facebook Status Updates (And What I Could Have Said)