WIth a little help from my Facebook friends

As milestones go it’s not a huge one. But I added my 300th Facebook friend this week.

For someone of my age, I was a fairly early adopter of Facebook and I’d say at this stage I’m pretty much addicted, spending some time each day on the social networking site.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Facebook, it’s a website which allows you to connect in a variety of ways with those who accept you as a “friend.” There’s an e-mail type function where you can exchange messages with others. I also check my “Wall,” a public area on your site where people can post comments to you and which provides a “news feed” type of rolling update of what you’ve been doing on the site — what applications you’ve added, groups you’ve joined and whose “friend” you’ve become. You can put pictures of yourself and others on your site.

It’s all an interesting lesson in the concept of privacy, and how our world is becoming more transparent. People have more ways than ever before of finding things out about you. At Wingate, we particularly have this conversation with job-hunting upperclassmen — don’t put anything on the public areas of your page that someone might use to eliminate you as a candidate for employment.

One more thing that’s possibly my favorite feature. You can also “update your status,” letting people know what you’re up to right now, whether it’s a significant life development (“Steve and Marsha are getting married”)or the most trivial and banal thing (“Keith is sitting and thinking”)

So the addition of Friend No. 300 — who will remain nameless to protect that person’s privacy — got me to thinking about what it means to have 300 friends on Facebook. Does that mean I actually have meaningful relationships with 300 people? I didn’t know I knew 300 people… Who are these folks? (Also, one of these days I have to ask one of my students who has more than 1,100 friends how exactly you do that. Again, I’m three times as old and I’m SURE I don’t know THAT many people.)

My friends are an interesting variety of folks. Some, like my wife, Jayne,who started her own page last year, are a daily part of my life. Most are either my Wingate students or, an even greater number, relatively recent former students, as you might expect. But I find myself now picking up friends from the former students from eight to 10 years ago, who are finally getting on board.

Some of these connections are current or former colleagues at Wingate. I recently had a friend request politely declined by a former co-worker who was trying to limit their Facebook page to people they knew on a more personal basis, high school friends, etc., which I thought was an interesting idea.

Journalists are increasingly using social networking sites as a reporting tool, so I have a network of former and current colleagues — and sources and former sources — in the newspaper business as a significant “node” of Facebook friends. (Facebook actually has an application that graphs this kind of thing for you, and to see the network of relationships in that way is fascinating.)

And some are people that I’m not sure I know, actually, but as Facebook helpfully tells you, I have a friend or two in common with that person, so, well, OK, I’ll add them.

So, am I, as Jayne suggests, a “friend collector” who just wants to be popular in this online community? Hey, all I know is that 45 people wished me Happy Birthday on my page last Sept. 5. Even if you don’t know all of them, it’s nice to have friends.

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About theoldperfessor

I'm a college professor, teaching journalism and public relations classes at a small private university, and a freelance writer.
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