Can anyone really have five-hundred friends on Facebook of all places? I wrote this article six years ago now, and as I go over it again today refresh it and look for errors, the premise remains the same but now with double the number of folks who call me “friends on Facebook.
I use the popular social networking site as a way of communicating and staying in touch with young people I work with professionally, and with their parents. (Now formally, as I’m retired!) I also use Facebook a lot with many folks, young and not so young, within my faith community of Quakers. (I like to joke with New England Quakers by teasing our elders, saying, that before long, it will be a prerequisite of membership for aspiring Friends (Quakers) to have a Facebook account! But that’s a story for another day.) In any case, just having these two main groups of people in my life can easily account for the numbers.
When it comes to computer use and online organization, I’m a categorizing and folders kind of guy, so it may come as no surprise to know that I also use the categorizing feature on Facebook to group my friend lists. (What? You didn’t know that I initially added you to a category? Sorry. You’re in my best friends list…of course!) Anyway, recently I noticed that my total number of Facebook Friends was nearing five hundred, and I thought about awarding my 500th friend with some kind of a special, silly award, like an old keyboard dipped in chocolate or a 1992 bound, four-pound beginners manual of how to use AOL.
Now I’m sure someone might ask, is this guy so vain that he even bothers to know how many Facebook friends he has? To ask this question though is to miss the point. I don’t know about others, but every once in a while I scroll though the faces and names of people in my Facebook list and think about them and how they are doing. All of them have names, unique faces, individual hopes and desires. They rise from sleep every day, put on their game face and march through the door of life whether they’re fifteen or fifty-years of age. Their existence matters to me. Now and again I also enjoy taking a peek at the milestones they mark with posted photos of weddings, births, new jobs or camp experiences. What else are we here for, really?
One of the categories I created for myself on Facebook early on is called “Do I know you?” Frankly, now and then when so-and-so wants to be my friend, I sometimes don’t remember, or can’t recall if I really do know the person when the “You have a friend request” rolls into my inbox. But I don’t always (okay, usually) have the heart to just click “ignore,” and so I pop them into my “Do I know you? category. And since I’ve pretty much ruled out that they’re not befriending me for my mind, money or body, I’m a little curious to figure out just how I do know them. Sometimes it’s a day or two later until I remember them. And after I check their profile, and glance through a few pics, it all comes back to me. It’s at that point that I enjoy seeing and getting a sense of where they are now in the world. Frequently it’s the eyes that rush me back to way back when, or the body contours in random snap shots…and then I’ve got it.. the place and approximate year. Frequently it’s the bumps in the road they were dealing with at the time that brings me back. Woman’s last names may have changed, which throws me off, and they’re a little wider and older looking too. With men, there’s either more hair on the face, or less on the head, with a few facial life-lines added that hint at the road they’ve journeyed on along the way.
A few months ago I started scrolling through my “Do I know you?” list and figured that there was a few dozen or so names that could or should get the boot…..maybe! But what if the day arrived when one of them decided to sent me a shout, and discovered that I was no longer their friend? How would I feel if that happened to me? It’s a little like saying, “Hey, nice hearing from you, now get lost!”
Two actual messages that I did receive come to mind: The first I received from a young man living in Florida last winter. He was, then, and as I recall he was in high school some ten years earlier, depressed, confused, gay and suicidal. His message began, and ended with just two sentences. “Kevin, hey man! Are you there?” The second message came in late spring from a girl living in a secure youth facility several towns away. She said that because she had been working her steps successfully while in treatment, that she was now allowed to go online for one hour a day and connect with the outside world. She said, “I’m contacting you because I know you’ll answer me…”
Earlier this year I was attending a funeral of a well-known person and friend in our community. In no time the church filled to capacity, with late-comers lining the walls and rear of the church. By chance, I found myself sitting beside another man who knew our deceased friend as well as I did. Scanning the packed church, he said, “You know, the real measure of how many friends you really have are the ones who would bother to attend your funeral.” His words stuck with me for weeks. So I wonder… rhetorically speaking, would I attend the funeral of my friends on Facebook, and would they, would you, attend mine?
In the meantime, between the time of mulling this article around in my head and actually sitting down to write it, my friend count on Facebook slid right past five-hundred. I thought, how wonderful! Not wonderful for the numbers mind you, but for the comforting fact that the little rhythms of everyday life keep nudging along, oblivious to electronic distractions and musings on my part. But I say this; hold the chocolate… until some future benchmark for both of us, determined by fate, friendship or faith, but hopefully, not funerals.