Friends, Acquaintances and Everyone We Know

Recently T-Wizzle and I were talking about the word “friend” and how it’s changed so much in the age of social media. On Facebook, once you connect with someone on their personal profile, they become your friend. In reality they may be a former coworker, your stepdad, your third cousin twice removed. You can put all your Facebook friends into lists based on your true relationship to them. You can signify who is a family member, who is a colleague, who you sat with in the cafeteria at your high school. You can even separate out Acquaintances. Regardless of how you choose to categorize them, everyone you are connected to on Facebook is still your friend.

This bothers me a bit.

I understand why Facebook uses this term – it’s simply a convenient label or shorthand to signify that two people are connected. Twitter has followers, Google+ has circles. But I feel the use of “friend” on Facebook is symptomatic of a larger issue, a shift in how society views interpersonal relationships.

I remember when “best friend” was the phrase du jour, the one that would indicate a level of intimacy reserved for the people we spent the most time with. Hearing that the person you thought of as your best friend considered you one of several best friends, or didn’t think of you as being part of their inner circle, was grounds for tear-stained journal entries and sleepless nights. Now it’s as if we want to call everyone our friend so that no one gets their feelings hurt, when really they are just an acquaintance.

You remember those, right? Merriam-Webster defines an acquaintance as: “someone who is known but who is not a close friend.” I’ve got plenty of those, and I’m fine with that status. If there comes a time when I want to transition into a more intimate friendship, I can do that, provided the other person is interested and willing to do what it takes to become better friends. But if that doesn’t happen, being an acquaintance is fine.

There’s a third approach, though, and it’s one I find particularly interesting. In 2011 Marcia Ann Gillespie, editor of Essence Magazine, asked Maya Angelou in an interview about the difference between acquaintances and friends. Ms. Angelou did not disappoint in her response.

MARCIA ANN GILLESPIE: There are friends and then there are acquaintances. How do you know when someone is really a friend?

MAYA ANGELOU: There’s a marked difference between acquaintances and friends. Most people really don’t become friends. They become deep and serious acquaintances. But in a friendship you get to know the spirit of another person; and your values coincide. Friends may disagree, but not about serious matters. A friend will stand for you when you are no longer able. A woman can say to herself, If I die, I know that my friend, my sister friend will be here to hold up the banner. Now that’s very profound.

The concept of a “deep and serious acquaintance” appeals to me. It’s way too long for any social network to use, but it definitely captures the essence of a connection that is meaningful and relevant, but not overly intimate. Over on Quora, one respondent to the question “what’s the difference between acquaintances and friends” used the term “situational friends.”

Situational Friends

You do have the contact information and a more extensive knowledge of the lives and families of your situational friends.  There still is a context that brings you together, but your discussions have evolved past that context, and involve your life, your family and your other interests.  You may even go on trips that involve the context with them.  But when that context ceases to be a common bond, you will drift away from each other, maybe staying on the Christmas card list.

With these things in mind, is it time for a new term? One that bridges the gap between friend and acquaintance? Or should we just be satisfied with our connections that bring us joy and meaning and not bother with labels?

How Old Are You, Really?

Last night there were a series of really awesome tweets, many of which used the hashtag #ImBlankOld, about how old someone was in relationship to pop culture, especially ’70s and ’80s pop culture. Not sure what or who started the tweets, but I saw that BlackGirlNerds wrote quite a few, and hers were particularly funny. I’m a little late to the game, obviously, but I figured I’d share just how old I am in 140 characters, with supporting video and photo footage.

I’m CBS Special with the spinning logo old.

I’m Hypercolor t-shirt old. (I still miss that shirt.)

 

I’m driving a 1973 AMC Gremlin as my first car old. (It was a graduation gift from my grandpa.)
I'm boombox holding, cassette tape playing old.
I’m boombox holding, cassette tape playing old.

 

I’m Crystal Pepsi old.
I remember when ranch dressing only came in a packet and you had to make it yourself old.

So, tell me, how old are YOU?

Repost If You Agree: Why Your Facebook Status Is Not Activism

A week ago a friend on a social network I use often (no, it’s not Facebook or Twitter) posted the following, prefaced by “Oh Lord, here we go again”:

“Okay pretty ladies,it’s that time of the year again….Support of Breast Cancer Awareness!!So we all remember last year’s game of writing your bra color as your status or the way we like to have our handbag handy?Last year,So many people took part that it made national news and the Constant Updating vstatus reminded everyone why were doing this and helped raised Awareness!!Do not tell any males….what thestatus mean…keep them guessing!!and please Copy and Paste (in a message)this to all your females friends. It’s time to confuse the men again (Its not really that hard to do)the idea is to choose the month you were born and the day you were born.(Pass this on the GIRLS ONLY!!and lets see how it reaches around.The last one about the bra went around all over the world.Your status should say “I am going to_________for__________months”. The day you were born should be for how many months you are going. Janauary-mexico February-London March-miami April-Dominican Republic May-france June-St.Petersburg July-Austria August-Germany September-New York October-Amster Dam November-Las Vegas December-Columbia”

I groaned as well when I read this, because I knew eventually this meme would hit someone within my group of Facebook friends and I’d be seeing this in my Messages. So far I haven’t seen it – but it’s only a matter of time.

I understand why these awareness memes started: it’s very easy to support a cause when all you have to do is copy and paste, or use an arbitrary algorithm (and I’m using the word “algorithm” very loosely here) to figure out what city you’re going to and for how many months. For me, this particular meme suggests I’ll be in London for 8 months, which sounds pretty fabulous, to be honest.

But the reality is that a cryptic, cutesy status update – or even a tweet – is not activism. Telling people what color your bra is or where you like to leave your purse doesn’t raise awareness of breast cancer. It merely confuses people. Social media confusion does not equal awareness; it equals irritation and unfriending and unfollowing.

Righteous – or even non-righteous – indignation over a dreaded disease, the poor and downtrodden masses, or even an abused puppy is common on the Internet. I get it. I get indignant too and I will share stories that particularly piss me off. What I’ve discovered, however, is that spreading those stories doesn’t make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. What does make a difference is actively doing something to show my feelings about the issue.

So ladies, rather than tell me you’re going to France for 16 months, why not give a few bucks to the American Cancer Society or Susan G. Komen? Or if you’re low on funds, how about going to your local hospital and reading or playing games in the pediatric cancer ward? Or call the nearest hospice and volunteer to deliver a meal to the family of a woman with breast cancer, or babysit her kids while she’s at chemo? It doesn’t have to be complicated or costly. It just needs to come from your heart.

I can’t stop these silly memes or trends with one blog post, I know. But that doesn’t stop me from hoping we’ll move from passive support of issues and causes to more active support.

Classes on Twitter and Facebook? Yes, Please, but for Everyone.

Just read an article on how an Australian parent association is asking the government to offer courses on social media etiquette to students. Why? It all boils down to consequences, schmonsequences:

The Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations of New South Wales, which represents parents at about 2,200 schools, said students were often unaware of the consequences of posting offensive content. It has called on the government to formally incorporate classes into the school curriculum.

“Kids engage in these acts without any thought of the consequences,” a spokesman for the association, David Giblin, told the Daily Telegraph.

Lauren Dugan over at MediaBistro asks whether or not good ol’ book learnin’ will make a difference, however:

I wonder if learning proper social media use in schools is enough for students to really change their behavior, however. Peer pressure is often more powerful than anything children hear from adults, especially their teachers and schools. Working with students to teach them the consequences of their actions online is important, but it’s also important to encourage positive reinforcement between themselves when not at school.

Kids do a lot of stuff without thinking of the possible consequences. Darting into the street without looking, smoking cigarettes behind the high school gym, having sex without a condom, hopping in a car with a stranger – and that’s the short list from when I was a kid. (We won’t talk about how long ago that was.) Having a grown-up tell you what to do or not to do gets tiresome quickly. I still feel that way about grown-ups, to be honest. They are always getting up in my business. Sheesh.

But here’s the thing: I know a lot of adults who are completely clueless on social media etiquette. Some of them can barely use Facebook, much less know what a retweet is. But then there are the folks who go bonkers and post everything and anything online. It can be exhausting to read their stream.

By saying this, I run the risk of losing several readers, but here is my truth: I use social media to know about you as a person, and to tell you who I am as a person. To me, that’s what the “social” part of “social media” means. I’m not all that interested in your Foursquare check-ins, or the Pages you Like. I am definitely not interested in the games you are playing on Facebook. Furthermore, I get annoyed by your vague tweets and status updates related to whatever emotional drama you’re going through at the moment. I can’t support you emotionally unless you tell me what the problem is.

That last paragraph makes me sound like a social media hater, which is far from true. It’s the sheer volume that can be exhausting. But I think the exhaustion stems more from the quality of the content and not necessarily the quantity. We are beyond the point of reducing the flow of online information, but we can impact the quality. Like Lauren, I think that’s where the Australian classes need to start: with encouraging kids to share the good stuff.

And what do I mean by “good stuff”? I mean all the things I personally love seeing on social media: people sharing material they find riveting, insightful and inspirational, whether it’s a video, song, or news article. Heartfelt messages of hope and kindness in support of someone who’s going through a rough time. Postings that encourage community activism and awareness. And silly stories, quips and jokes that lift one’s spirits without bringing someone else down.

If the Aussies are going to teach kids how to be kinder, gentler social media addicts, I certainly hope they will share their lesson plans with the rest of the world. Because we really could use the education.

When Shame Becomes Social

T-Wizzle and I have had discussions about the idea of social shame. She gets upset that people can behave atrociously and get away with it, that there is no consequence for their actions. In the United States we don’t stone someone for cheating on their spouse, for example, and sometimes we go so far as to let them provide a litany of reasons explaining why they did what they did, or that they really didn’t do anything wrong. And if the person is lucky enough to have a team of attorneys, spokespeople and publicists on their payroll, they may never have to take personal responsibility at all. (See also: Tiger Woods, John Edwards, Bill Clinton.)

This isn’t to say that social shame doesn’t exist, however. With the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, it is quite possible to hold someone accountable for their behavior. I saw this happen yesterday. Over a 24-hour period, one writer’s experience in dealing with an editor who’d stolen her work went viral, spawning a Twitter hashtag, a catchphrase, and, for the publisher of the magazine, a publicity nightmare.

Let’s break this down step by step, including links as needed. (It’s possible I’m missing some information, or got some of the facts wrong. Please feel free to comment with any corrections.)

1. In 2005, Monica Gaudio wrote an article about the history of apple pie.

2. In 2010, the article was reprinted in Cooks Source, a cooking magazine that is available on newsstands as well as online. The article included Monica’s byline.

3. Monica contacted the editor to find out what had happened, and when it was determined the article had been lifted in complete disregard of copyright laws, Monica asked for a public apology, both on Facebook and in the print edition, and for a donation to a journalism school.

4. In an incredible display of shock and aw-hell-no-she-didn’t, the editor, Judith Griggs, rejected Monica’s request. This is just a portion of her response:

But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

5. Monica writes about the experience on her blog and someone tweets a link to her blog post.

6. Within hours, the tweet is retweeted over and over again, grabbing the attention of Neil Gaiman, multiple journalists and bloggers.

7. The number of Fans on Cooks Source’s Facebook Page skyrockets to more than 4,000, mostly for the purpose of posting a nasty comment on their Wall. (I became a Fan just long enough to add my own comment.)

8. The story is picked up by Forbes, CNN, Time, MSNBC, Wired, Gawker, BoingBoing, Washington Post, LA Times, and many other sites.

As a former editor, I’m horrified and appalled by this so-called editor’s attitude. As a publicist, I’m full of empathy for the PR hacks who are swilling coffee by the gallon as they figure out how to spin this debacle to the magazine’s advantage. As a writer, I’m thrilled to see an ignorant, arrogant editor get their just desserts (pun intended). And as a social media manager, I’m reminded of how easy it is to hold a person, product or brand accountable for its actions when we allow the shame to go social.