Family, friends and Facebook

I REALIZED that the whole thing was getting out of hand when my wife started asking me why I didn’t want to be her “friend.”
Not to get into personal matters too deeply, I had always sort of
thought my wife was, is and will be my friend — my best friend, the one
with whom I shared all, ’til death do us part.
    After 34 years of
marriage, five kids and now three grandchildren in common, after all of
which we are still living in the same house and on speaking terms,
you’d think the whole “friendship” thing would have been established to
everyone’s satisfaction long ago.
    But not in the age of Facebook.
Call me a mossback, but I admit it: I don’t get Facebook. It’s not that
I ain’t hep! Blogging is second nature to me. Almost everything else
about the Internet, from Google to e-commerce, I do as though I’ve
always done them. I’ve essentially been instant-messaging since the
early ’80s.
    But Facebook foxes me. It doesn’t make sense. I
don’t understand why information flows the way it does on that site or
is structured the way it is; I have trouble obtaining the simplest
information from it. I can’t get a footing in all those little snatches
of messages in various type sizes with little pictures and all; as soon
as I step into my Home page, I slip and fall as though I’d stepped into
a roomful of marbles, and my attention slides right off the screen. I
need gray, continuous type, one clearly expressed thought following
logically upon another, to hold my consciousness — which is why the two
papers I’m most likely to read other than my own are The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
But most of all, I don’t get the whole “friends” concept. Mind you, I’m
not the world’s most sociable guy. There’s family. There’s co-workers.
There’s sources. There are nice people I see at church or at Rotary.
But friends? Not so much. We’re not encouraged to have “friends” in my
business. I’ve been the recipient of disapproving remarks from
colleagues on the rare occasions I’ve called someone a “friend” in a
column. It’s considered unprofessional.
    But ever since I set up
a Facebook account (I did it when my youngest daughter’s boyfriend died
last year, and I’d heard his sister had set up a page where a lot of
people had said nice things about him), I’ve had this steady trickle of
e-mails saying:

    (Name) added
you as a friend on Facebook. We need to confirm that you know (name) in
order for you to be friends on Facebook.

    To confirm this friend request, follow the link below:

Sometimes these are people I know, usually professionally. I started
out confirming them, just to keep open the lines of communication — but
I’ve started to hold back. Some are people whose names are only vaguely
familiar, although I generally recognize them when I go to their pages.
Then I have a dilemma — should I snub this person who has asked me to
be his or her “friend,” or potentially compromise myself by declaring
to the world that this person is a “friend”? (This category includes a
lot of people, usually younger ones, who work in politics
    Yeah, I get it that the site is using the word
“friend” to describe a range of relationships much broader than the
original meaning, but I’m still not sure what to do, because I still
place value upon the word.
    Finally, some are members of my
immediate family. First, there were my own children. I approve those,
of course, although “friend” seems an absurdly inadequate way to define
the relationship. Then my wife signed up. A few days later, she said
our youngest had expressed dismay that her mother had not yet named her
as a “friend”! Well, we smiled over this. How silly. She knows how much
we love her.
    Next thing I knew, my wife was asking how much longer I was going to go without confirming that she
was my friend. OK, OK, I took care of that. I now see that all but one
of my children are my friends on “Facebook,” but I am not going to bug
the one holdout about it, because that’s his business. (To the extent
that anyone has personal business in a Facebook world. I don’t want to
give away one of the reasons why I think my wife likes the site, but
kids will post stuff on their Facebook site they would never tell their
parents directly, which to me remains inexplicable.)
probably good to have my wife on there, though, on account of the total
strangers asking me to be their “friends.” The very first person who
asked to be my “friend” was an attractive lady (which I knew from the
glamour shot) who lives in Germany and is married. I “confirmed” the
friendship just so I could send her a message asking, as delicately as
I could, whether we were acquainted. She said we were not. OK. Whatever.
That was over a year ago, and I still don’t understand what’s going on.
But I am feeling the pull of this complicated web of relationships, and
it is not always pleasant. At first, it’s nice to make contact with a
friend — a friend in the old sense — you haven’t seen in 20 years, and
that leads to “friend” requests from people who were close to both of
you back then, and on and on. But as the thing spreads in a viral
manner — which seems to be the point — it all becomes rather cumbersome.
So I don’t get Facebook. I’m told that Barack Obama does, though, which
is good to know. I read a piece in Foreign Affairs last week (see how
hopeless I am?) that in this century, the world’s most dominant power
will be the one with the most “connectedness,” and “the United States
has a clear and sustainable edge” in that department.
    So I’m glad to know that somebody gets it. But I don’t.

For a site that makes sense to me, please go to

13 thoughts on “Family, friends and Facebook

  1. bud

    Maybe I’m not thinking about this hard enough or you’re overthinking it but this seems straightforward enough to me. Facebook is just another spin on sharing your thoughts with a variety of people in a fun, trendy sort of way. The whole ‘friend’ thing is just something for fun. And what’s wrong with having a bit of fun?

  2. Ralph Hightower

    I don’t do Facebook or Myspace because of computer security concerns; Facebook and Myspace have been attacked too much for me to consider joining. (I do run Anti-Virus and Internet Security software on my home computer). A real friend invited me to join his Facebook; I think that he is sharing pictures of his son on Facebook. But I declined and I gave my reasons why and none of the reasons were personal. Facebook and Myspace may have some value in it that I am missing, but just keeping up with the news, my own interests, and with the Wall St. meltdown, now, financial news, I just don’t have time for Facebook or Myspace.
    Critical flaws found in MySpace, Facebook
    Elgan: Why you can’t trust ‘friends’ on Facebook
    I only have a profile on LinkedIn, which is a business networking site.

  3. Herb Brasher

    Is it just me, or is somebody else not seeing any comments posted since the 29th? I’ve tried every refresher trick I know, and used Firefox and Safari, but nothing is coming up.

  4. Doug Ross

    Same for me. I see the comments count increasing on the “Wall St./Main Street” topic but don’t see anything after your comment on 12/29.
    As for Facebook – no interest whatsoever. I have little time or interest to know what my “friends” are doing at every second of the day or what music they are listening to or seeing a bunch of “Whassup?” messages.
    Kids on Facebook are pretty dumb though (ref: Bristol Palin’s boyfriend and his self-proclaimed rednecked-ness).

  5. James D McCallister

    I’ve recently become a Facebook user after a couple of years on myspace. Probably continue to use both. And sorry but no, the concept behind Facebook is not as inscrutable as the column makes it out to be.

  6. Brad Warthen

    Herb, bud and Doug: Check and see if it’s working for you now. I just tried to post a comment back on the Wall Street post, and it worked — but that doesn’t mean it’s working for everyone…
    Maybe the comment function went dormant because I didn’t post for over a week, which is, I think, a record for me. I don’t see HOW that could cause the problem, but I don’t see how else it could have happened, either — except that TypePad has been messing with all sorts of things lately.
    Meanwhile, I have no idea why the e-mail links aren’t showing up.

  7. Brad Warthen

    Well, I’m not sure what to do, except report it to TypePad — which I will do.

    Meanwhile, FYI, here’s a WSJ piece that sort of foreshadowed mine back in 2007. It seems sort of prophetic now.

  8. Herb Brasher

    That thread still isn’t working for me, and I assume that it is still the same for the others, so maybe somebody can sort it out.

  9. debralynn

    Hi, Brad! Now I feel really honored that you agreed to be my friend a few days ago!! (for people reading this post, we are former colleagues at The State.)_ My sister, who is much hepper than me, begged me to join Facebook a year or so ago. It’s only been in the last couple of months that I ‘get it.’ Today, I instant-messaged with my siser, which scared me to death, partly because I worry that any time anybody sees me on Facebook, they can ask me to chat with them and what if I don’t want to? I like doing as much or as little of Facebook as I CHOOSE. My favorite feature is clicking on friends and seeing all the “what are you doing now” posts. I can reply or not as I need. You may remember, though, that I, unlike you or so you say, am a social monster, and so I kind of like that I can pick and choose as much or as little involvement.I think that’s the trick. Maybe it will “click” with you one day, too. Meanwhile, nice to read your wonderful, pithy prose and to “see” you again. All best to your lovely wife. DL


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