Two interesting articles about friends and friendship online. This first one, by Hal Niedzviecki, was published in the International Herald Tribune (www.iht.com).
One day this past summer, I logged on to Facebook and realized that I was very close to having 700 online “friends.” Not bad, I thought to myself, absurdly proud of how many cyberpals, connections, acquaintances and even strangers I’d managed to sign up.
But the number made me uneasy as well. I had just fallen out with a friend I’d spent a lot of time with. I’d disconnected with a few other ones for the usual reasons – jobs in other cities, family life limiting social time. I was as much to blame as they were. I had a 2-year-old kid of my own at home. Add to that my workaholic irritability, my love of being left alone and my lack of an office environment. I had fewer friends to hang out with than I’d ever had before.
So I decided to have a Facebook party. I used Facebook to create an “event” and invite my digital chums. Some of them, of course, didn’t live in Toronto, but I figured, it’s summer and people travel. You never know who might be in town. If they lived in Buffalo or Vancouver, they could just click “not attending,” and that would be that. Facebook gives people the option of R.S.V.P.’ing in three categories – “attending,” “maybe attending” and “not attending.”
After a week the responses stopped coming in and were ready to be tabulated. Fifteen people said they were attending, and 60 said maybe. A few hundred said not, and the rest just ignored the invitation altogether. I figured that about 20 people would show up. That sounded pretty good to me. Twenty potential new friends.
On the evening in question I took a shower. I shaved. I splashed on my tingly man perfume. I put on new pants and a favorite shirt. Brimming with optimism, I headed over to the neighborhood watering hole and waited.
Eventually, one person showed up.
I chatted with my new potential friend, Paula, doing my best to pretend I wasn’t dismayed and embarrassed. But I was too self-conscious to be genuine. I kept apologizing for the lack of attendance. I looked over my shoulder every time the door opened and someone new came in. Paula was nice about it, assuring me that people probably just felt shy about the idea of making a new friend. She said she herself had almost decided not to come.
“And now you have me all to yourself,” I said, trying to sound beneficent and unworried. We smiled at each other awkwardly.
We made small talk. I found out about her job, her boyfriend, her soccer team. Paula became my Facebook friend after noticing I was connected to a friend of hers. She thought it would be interesting to drop by and meet me.
Eventually we ran out of things to say. Anyway, she had to work in the morning. I picked up the tab on her Tom Collins and watched as she strode out into the night, not entirely sure if our friendship would grow. After she left, I renewed my vigil, waiting for someone to show. It was getting on 11 o’clock and all my rationalizations – for example, that people needed time to get home from work, eat dinner, relax a bit – were wearing out.
I would learn, when I asked some people who didn’t show up the next day, that “definitely attending” on Facebook means “maybe” and “maybe attending” means “likely not.” So I probably shouldn’t have taken it personally. But the combination of alcohol and solitude turned my thoughts to self-pity. Was I really that big of a loser? Or was it that no one wants to get together in real life anymore? It wasn’t Facebook’s fault; all those digital pals were better than nothing. For chipping away at past friendships and blocking honest new efforts, you really have to blame the entire modern world. People want to hang out with you, I assured myself. They just don’t have the time.
By now it was nearing midnight. My head was clouded by drink, and it was finally starting to sink in: no one else was coming. I’d have to think up some other way to revitalize my social life. I ordered one more drink.
The beer arrived, a British import: Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. I raised my glass in a solitary toast and promised myself I’d spend less time online. Then I took a gulp: The beer was delicious but bittersweet. Seven hundred friends, and I was drinking alone.