I reached a somewhat dubious milestone earlier this week. For a day or so, briefly, I had exactly one thousand friends on Facebook.
It seems like I’ve either been getting unfriended a lot lately, or I’ve had friends deactiving or deleting their Facebooks, so it didn’t last long. I am at 999 as of this morning. That number is not entirely accurate, for that matter; it does not take into account couples who share a Facebook, people with separate Facebook accounts for business and personal uses, or people who make Facebook pages for their pets. And interestingly enough, my 1000th friend was someone I had known for several years but had never been friends with on Facebook, not someone I had just met.
This begs a few questions. First of all, why do I care? I’m not trying to be famous, and it doesn’t make me any better or worse that I have a lot of friends. I just notice these things because I’m a math guy. But more importantly, is it really possible to have a thousand friends? And who are these people? And how did an introvert like me get a thousand friends? The answer to that is inherent in the unstable nature of my adult life. I moved away for college, I moved again just before I turned 25, and I moved again at 29. Most of those places, I stayed long enough that my network of contacts changed, and every time I made a major change like this, there were some people I didn’t leave behind who I stayed in touch with over the years. And Facebook makes it so convenient to look up old friends that I eventually found others who I did lose touch with, or they found me. I also tell my students that they can add me on Facebook after they graduate from high school, and in the seven years that I worked at the small private high school, quite a few of them did, and numerous others from past schools found me over the years.
In a lot of ways, this is a good thing. Facebook makes it easier for an introvert like me to have some semblance of both a social life and a past using the forms of communication with which I am most comfortable. But I have to be careful as well. As has been often said, Facebook presents a distorted view of everyone else’s life, only showing what others choose to share. The Internet also makes it easy for someone with a bad idea that sounds good on the surface to rally others who share their ill-informed views and use the mob mentality to shame people who disagree with them, and Facebook in particular makes it easy to pass on the ill-informed articles. Sometimes, I just feel like I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.
A couple days after I hit 1000, I was feeling particularly frustrated with humanity in general, and I contemplated unfriending a lot of people. Some of these people I really don’t have a lot in common with to begin with, and I never see them anymore. I do, in fact, occasionally unfollow people, so I don’t see their posts unless I make an effort to click on them. But even so, the only people I unfollow are the ones I don’t have much in common with, I don’t see anymore, and who also post condescending inflammatory political things I don’t agree with. And I don’t want to unfriend people completely, because if someone is on my friend list, that means that, at the very least, they meant something significant to me at one time, and I’d like to hold on to whatever small shred of hope is left that we might mean something to each other again at some point. (And I have occasionally re-followed people I had once unfollowed if, for example, we start talking and hanging out regularly again.) There’s that saying about how people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. I’ve never been good at that; I want everyone to be a lifetime friend, or at least to have the chance to be.
So can I keep up with a thousand friends? I can’t read every post. And I’ll probably have to find ways to spend less time on Facebook, since I haven’t done a good job of that lately. But I’ll do my best.