Past Event

Facing the truth about Facebook friendships?

Facebook, the social-networking phenomenon with 150 million friends, turned five last week. Happy Birthday, old friend!

What started on the Harvard University campus by a student "who grew impatient with the creation of an official universal Harvard facebook" has become a global social media revolution. Its claim to notoriety, of course, is its ability to connect friends with friends.

On its February 4th birthday, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote on his blog: "Facebook was founded in 2004 to give people the tools to engage and understand the world around them. We are glad and humbled that so many people are using Facebook in this way."

Yes, millions of people are using Facebook. Some would say they’re using it to push the boundaries of friend far beyond the logical-and practical-notion of friendship (millions of users have thousands of friends). They’re using it to network for work and school- posting news links and event notices and sending invitations to every kind of party, rally, conference, and meeting you can imagine. At least once a day, 15 million users update their status. In a month, 850 million photos are uploaded to the site and shared with friends.

But how much sharing can a "real" friend take? Recently Facebook has been getting criticized in the media as more than a few friends are getting fed up with their Facebook infatuation. Newsweek columnist Steve Tuttle recently wrote, "So goodbye 157 Facebook friends, 75 of whom I wouldn’t recognize if I saw you on the street. … When I think about all the hours I wasted this past year on Facebook, and imagine the good I could have done instead, it depresses me."

The New York Times also weighed in on the idea of having "too many online friends" and the delicate etiquette required to forever banish them to former friend status. Most actions on Facebook are public. Friends are notified of events users are attending, connections between new friends, links posted to one’s site, and the list goes on. But one action that is not made public is when a user chooses to drop a friend, referred to as de-friending. "Users should be able to have the friend list respect those changes without the pressure of a public notification," spokeswoman Brandee Barker said. In other words, the whole world doesn’t need to know you dropped a friend.

But not everyone is sick of Facebook; many remain happy with the site’s conveniences. David Coursey of PC World writes, "Facebook allows users to post clippings, thoughts, business ideas, and other bits and pieces of our lives for all our friends to see. In a business context, Facebook often reminds me of people who can answer questions, point me to someone they know (but I don’t), or whom I’d just like to stay in front of."

Have you considered paring down your list of Facebook friends? What’s the optimum number of friends to have-online and offline? In the offline, i.e. real, world, how have you ended a friendship? Do Facebook and other social-networking sites really bring people together? Do you or do you know people who keep count of their Facebook friends? What’s the value of Facebook in a wired world? If you’re not on Facebook, have you been tempted to join and find out what the fuss is all about?  Do you think this form of social networking will affect younger generation’s ability to connect to each other in the real world?

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