This is a post from late November that I’m just now finding time to circle back to. I think it brings up a lot of good points about how making things seamless in social media isn’t necessarily always a good thing. Facebook birthdays are a good example, but there’s also the issue of apps posting our activity to our Twitter and Facebook feeds, sometimes without our knowledge. For example, all the “I’m listing to whatever on spotify” posts from Facebook – I kept clicking ignore. Likewise with some other social reader thing that was reporting the last five stories read on various news sites by a couple of people – don’t care, and I’m not convinced the readers even realized that was being posted.
Likewise, the other night a friend’s Twitter stream lit up with notifications about something she was doing online. They were clearly automatically generated, and knowing this person I’m pretty sure she wasn’t aware that the app (or website, or whatever) she was using was doing this. She probably wasn’t clicking “yes, post this to Twitter,” and in fact it’s entirely possible that all she did was register or log in using her Twitter credentials. As soon as I caught on I started ignoring her tweets, even though they were possibly of interest to me. The lack of friction — in the social media sphere, a demonstration or confirmation of intent to share — devalued the information.
The Facebook birthday point gets at something slightly different, for me, and that’s the usefulness of social friction in real life – it’s a measure of how well you know someone. I feel compelled to acknowledge it when Facebook informs me it’s someone’s birthday, even if I haven’t interacted with them recently. When I don’t, I feel a little bit guilty. Facebook has taken this data point about someone and turned it from something that you used to only know if you were close friends into something that’s out there for everyone to see. A social interaction that used to require an investment of time and interaction has been turned into a transaction, and one that on the surface has very little actual value.
But is that true? To a certain extent, I’d say many of us have adapted to the “quantity over quality” model of friendships on Facebook. For example, this year I received very few Facebook birthday wishes, which was disappointing. But then I realized it was my own fault – I’d hidden that information from pretty much everyone in the continuing struggle to control how what I post to Facebook is displayed. So only the folks who actually knew & remembered it was my birthday commented.
I’ve tried to reclaim the valuation of my own birthday wishes to friends by sending physical birthday cards to family and close friends. I’ve also started skipping wishing some Facebook friends – those who I don’t interact with in real life or even in Facebook – a happy birthday. After all, I only know it’s your birthday because this data point about you has been made visible to me (let’s not even talk about whether or not that was your intention).
Quality. Quantity. What’s more important? The answer is the classic “it depends.” On the person, on the situation, on any number of other qualifiers. I think the question is really “What am I looking for in my friendships and social interactions online, and in real life?” There’s a place for both, but I think Facebook muddles the waters. It’s up to each one of us to make our own definitions, and find our own balance.