In second grade, our class had a new student named Brooke. Brooke had just moved into our little Midwestern suburb from a magical faraway land called Texas. Instantly, she was a shiny new object that had everyone’s attention. On her first day of school, she exited the bus at my stop and I learned she lived just a few houses down from mine. I invited her over to play outside with my new red ball (the 1987 version of an iPad), and within ten minutes she announced, “we should be best friends” and I agreed that we should. We keep in touch to this day. This was when friendships were simple.
Fast forward twenty-five years and another friend of mine stops by my desk and frantically announces, “there are too many ways to be friends with you!” She had obviously just gotten my Yelp notification. After a quick mental scan of my numerous virtual little black books, I realized she was right. She follows me on Twitter and Instagram, we are friends on Facebook, she subscribes to my blog, we’re connected on Foursquare, we’re networked on LinkedIn, and we spend a good deal of time together in the physical world being actual, real-life friends. I guess asking her to read reviews of the places I eat when I’m with her was taking our relationship one step too far.
Friendships at their core are simple. You stumble upon someone with shared interests, a shared sense of humor, or sometimes just a shared bus stop, and you make a connection. As time passes, the relationship evolves, and eventually settles itself into a category, like: best friend, good friend, old friend, work friend, Christmas-card friend or I-only-call-you-when-I-need-to-borrow-your-truck-friend.
Then add to the mix the “friends” you don’t talk to but whose kids you consistently see pictures of, “friends” whose opinions you trust about where to eat, “friends” whose feet-on-the-beach photos you always courteously “like,” and “friends” whose playlists you steal and you realize your friendship ecosystem is monstrous.
Navigating a social labyrinth that extends from our real to our virtual worlds practically requires a manual – a hierarchy of who we let into each facet of our social lives. Subconsciously, most of us already have established this set of rules. Here’s mine:
I know you and think you’re awesome: LinkedIn, Instagram, reality
You are close friends, family, respected colleagues, and acquaintances who take amazing photos of cheeseburgers. We are probably also connected on other networks out of perceived obligation.
I know you and don’t have much of an opinion on you: Facebook, Foursquare
You’re my fifth grade boyfriends, college drinking buddies and anyone I ever played Barbies with. I may not have talked to you since 1994 but I’m ok with you seeing pictures of my dog and knowing that I’m two bars shy of a Crunked badge.
I don’t know you, but think you’re awesome: Yelp, Twitter, WordPress, Pinterest
You’re hilarious, insightful, clever and creative and I feel awesomer by virtual osmosis. Your witty posts, irreverent critiques and shrewd use of popsicle sticks is inspirational. You can come over and play with my red ball anytime.
I don’t know you and I’m ok with that: Google+
We’re just not there yet, but let’s hang out and see where this relationship goes.
With our tight circle of friends extending into the gazillions, there are friends whom we keep close, and others we just keep. How do you keep your digital black books straight? What is your screening process for social networking? How do you decide who to let in?