I had an argument with a friend yesterday. He’d been a little economical with the truth and I found out and was angry. I found out via Facebook – of course. Facebook knows everything.
This propelled me to write this post I’ve been thinking about for a while. The thrust of the talk that I will give in December is how much computers and the internet have changed the way humans live. Perhaps the thing that has been changed most is our relationships.
If the web is now a communication medium, what more powerful way to change our relationships than to change the way we communicate? I know someone who broke up with her boyfriend by changing her relationship status. My boyfriend and I mostly keep our interactions off Facebook, but we do argue on Twitter from time to time – to the amusement of our friends. Of course, I’ve also seen people playing out their breakups on Facebook, using it as a medium to exchange those messages, you know, where he tries to explain that it’s over and she begs and pleads and promises everything to make him come back.
One of my friends is dating someone who I consider toxic and try and avoid. Now that they’re “Facebook-official” I can’t use the reasoning that it’s not on Facebook and therefore can be ignored anymore. Wow. Taking a step back and looking at this objectively – I’m amazed that this is how we interact now. My friends and I have our share of drama, but I don’t think that as a group of 20-somethings we’re that out of the ordinary.
Admittedly most of my knowledge of dating in the pre-Web 2.0 era comes from Sex and the City. But did people use to look up the people they go out with using Google and Facebook? Pick people up via mutual friends on Facebook? Analyze their date’s Facebook profile with their friends? Pick people up on dating sites? Check out the exes? Facebook increases jealousy in relationships, well yeah. Of course it does! What other medium can you use to obsessively stalk and obsess over your recent exes’s new girlfriend? Note – this was not my behavior, but the behavior of someone I knew. She was obsessive after her breakup – and Facebook helped every step of the way. She’s not alone, though – there was an article in September’s (UK) Cosmo written by a guy who’d found out that his ex had got married (via Facebook). He was quite upset, but is continuing the stalking – looking for baby pictures.
When I last broke up with someone I quit Facebook for a month. I also started checking my email only once a week (after reading Tim Ferris’s The 4-Hour Work Week) and I happened to be working in the US (I’m British, most of my friends are too – this was before I moved to Canada). So I literally didn’t talk about how upset I was for a month. By getting rid of Facebook, I could just put dealing with it on hold for a while. I was working about 70 hours a week – it was helpful.
However it got me thinking. We used to take our dumped friend’s phone when she was inebriated. Change “his” number to ours to stop the obsessive calling. What do we do now? I changed someone’s password, once, to stop the stalking. Others thought it a step too far, but it seemed to help (albeit temporarily). Our friends could be our will power before, but how do we do that now? I wonder if there’s a business model in a 3rd party service that locks you out of things, archives the romantic emails and the pictures until you (and a trusted friend) confirm that you’re no longer a nutcase.
On a more upbeat note, you can also use Facebook to help create relationships – basing your dating profile on your Facebook profile and having your friends vouch for you. Niche dating sites are doing well, there’s even one that’s more of a matchmaking service (although results seem to be mixed). So it’s not like Web 2.0 is just destroying relationships – it’s creating them too. It’s just a lot of change.
Some people still meet the normal way. I recently introduced two people last week, they’re getting on well so far! And in India it’s common to meet your partner at work – some companies even have internal dating sites! And, of course, if it doesn’t work out there are plenty of blogs by and for the dumped.
It’s not just your boyfriend or girlfriend though. What about our friends? Like I mentioned above, I don’t interact with my boyfriend much on Facebook but I definitely interact with my friends. I use it to plan and organize events for my local friends and keep in touch with the ones I’m away from. I’m a big fan of ambient awareness or ambient intimacy, I like to know what’s going on with my friends that I don’t get to see that often any more. Sure, some people are less interesting than others but I can turn them off any time I want. There’s a really interesting NYT Magazine article about ambient intimacy, it’s long but very worth reading. Of course, there are mixed opinions – the alternative view. For younger people, “real” friends are on Facebook, apparently – due to ease of sharing and the level of interaction.
What about, though, the people you’d like to just fade out of your social circle. In the past if someone pushed it too far, you could just “forget” to invite them to things. If you delete someone’s number, they’re never going to find out unless you run into them (and you can always claim to have got a new phone / had a problem where all your numbers mysteriously disappeared). Whilst Facebook doesn’t broadcast when you “un-friend” someone, if someone catches on they can definitely tell. Unfriending is this more active step to dropping someone from your social circle – but it’s so necessary, because there’s so much information on Facebook that if you don’t they will know what’s going on, maybe assume they’re invited. There’s not much overly personal about me on Facebook anymore, but even so – there’s enough that I’m just not comfortable with someone I don’t like having access to it. De-friending, or Un-friending is this whole new area of privacy and etiquette that there’s no consensus on yet. Will there ever be, though? We’ve probably always managed our relationships differently. Just now with the popularity of services like these, it’s harder to hide how differently.
Sometimes I feel like Facebook is awful. In some ways, I kinda hate it. I hate how gossip propagates, how quitting it for a while is a big deal. I hate that some people don’t just fade away as you thought they would. I hate the whole area of un-friending, but think it’s necessary. I hate the opaque privacy settings. I’m a little weirded out by how it’s normal to start a conversation by, “So how’s <<X>>? I saw <<Y>> on Facebook…”. But here’s what I hate most – that I can’t live without it, because it’s so great for keeping in touch, because for those people I want on my Facebook there’s this great medium for us to interact and invite our other friends to interact with us. Because weird a conversation starter as it is, it’s a conversation starter. And I love having conversations in the real world, too.