5/02/2011

When I am King: Friendless

When I am King...

I will have no friends.

I got several notifications from LinkedIn this week which reminded me how much I hate these emails. It’s not that I mind reconnecting with people, or being connected to them. It’s not that I mind them contacting me. And it’s certainly not that I have too many friends: geeks are naturally anti-social creatures and can use all the friends they can get.

However, I do object to the assumption, in these emails and on these social sites in general, that everyone is my ‘friend.’ They are not my friends: I hardly know them. If we’re counting friends, I’m pretty sure I can depend on my wife and my dog (depending on whether I helped out around the house that day). And of them, only one of them could possibly send me a ‘friend’ request on the computer (I don’t give my dog our account passwords. You never know what havoc they’ll wreak while you’re out for the day).

Outside of the house, I do have some friends. But mostly I have colleagues. And social acquaintances. And business acquaintances. And networking contacts. And people I met at conferences. And friends of friends. And people I met in a bar last night. And other people I met in the bar later last night when I was face-down on the floor. None of these people are what I’d call ‘friends’.

Friends are people we are close to. We grew up with them, or we roomed with them, or we spent too many years sequestered in the same cube at faceless corporations with them. In other words, friends are the people who have the dirt on you, the really nasty stuff that you don’t want anyone else to know. You keep these friends close because the alternative is worse. Everyone that’s not in that category you specifically want some distance from so that they don’t find out the dark secrets that could make you befriend them.

When I am King, social networks will be more honest. You will not get email telling you that someone says you’re a ‘friend.’ Instead, there will be more helpful information, like:
John Johnson has indicated you are:
  • a remote acquaintance.
  • someone he’s heard of.
  • another human being.
  • a person with a neat name.
  • someone whose contact information he wants to acquire.
  • someone he’d like to spam with a random headhunter email completely unrelated to your interests and experience.
  • someone who might know the answer to their homework problem.
  • someone who left a face-print on the floor of the bar last night.
We may not end up accepting connections with these people, but at least the relationships will be more honest if we do. And who knows? They could even someday become really good friends, unless you manage to keep all of the embarrassing personal secrets off of the social site accounts to which they now have access.
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