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Time Magazine Article: You Are Not My Friend

An interesting essay from one of my favorite columnists, Joel Stein. As usual, he has an original take on something -- this time it's a topic that I thought would be fun to share with you all.

You Are Not My Friend By JOEL STEIN

In the pre-internet days, neither of us would have even thought of calling each other friends. We'd have called ourselves friends of friends who met once and yet, for some reason, kept sending each other grammatically challenged, inappropriately flirty letters with photos of ourselves attached. Police might have gotten involved.

But now we're definitively friends, having taken a public vow of friendship on friend-based websites, wearing metaphorical friendship bracelets on the earnest Facebook, the punky MySpace, the careerist LinkedIn and the suddenly very Asian Friendster. As if that wasn't enough friendship for you, some of you have also asked me to be friends on the nerdy Twitter, the dorky-élitist Doostang and the Eurotrashy hi5. You message me and comment about me and write on my walls and dedicate songs to me and invite me to join groups. More than once you have taken it upon yourself to poke me.

This is hard to say to a friend, but our relationship is starting to take up too much of my time. It's weird that I know more about you than I do about actual friends I hang out with in person--whom I propose we distinguish by calling "non-metafriends." In fact, I know more about you than I know about myself. I have no idea what my favorite movie or song or TV show is. Last I checked, they all involved Muppets.

Also, you're a bit aggressive in our friendship. Would a non-metafriend call me up and say, "Hey! Guess what? I have a bunch of new pictures of me"? Or tell me he'd colored in a map of all the places he'd ever been? Or inform me, as Michael Hirschorn did in his Facebook status update, that he "is not making decisions; he's making surprises"? It's as if I suddenly met a new group of people who were all in the special classes.

The horror is, I can't opt out. Just as I can't stop making money or my non-metafriends will have more stuff than I do, I can't stop running up my tally of MySpace friends or I'll look like a loser. Just as money made wealth quantifiable, social networks have provided a metric for popularity. We all, oddly, slot in at a specific ranking somewhere below Dane Cook.

I'm sure social networks serve many important functions that improve our lives, like reconnecting us with old friends and finding out if people we used to date are still good-looking. And social networks all have messaging functions, which would be an excellent way to send information if no one had invented e-mail.

But really, these sites aren't about connecting and reconnecting. They're a platform for self-branding. Old people are always worrying that our blogging and personal websites and MySpace profiles are taking away our privacy, but they clearly don't understand the word privacy. We're not sharing things we don't want other people to know. We're showing you our best posed, retouched photos. We're listing the Pynchon books we want you to think we've read all the way through. We're allowing other people to write whatever they want about us on our walls, unless we don't like it, in which case we just erase it. If we had that much privacy in real life, the bathrooms at that Minnesota airport would be empty.

And like the abrasively direct ads for tinctures and cleaning products at the beginning of the advertising age, our self-branding is none too subtle. We are a blunt lot, in our bikinis and our demands that our friends go right now to check out our blog postings. We've gone 40 years back, to sales tactics predating irony, self-deprecation and actual modesty. We are, as a social network, all so awesome that we will soon not be able to type the number 1, because we will have worn out the exclamation point that shares its key.

Until we can build some kind of social network where we can present our true, flawed selves--perhaps some genius can invent something that takes place in a house over dinner with wine--I say we strip down our online communities to just the important parts. With enough venture funding--by which I mean the volunteer services of a dude who knows how to build a website--I hope to launch TrueSocialStatus.com on which users are allowed to submit only their name, their occupation, a photo, the square footage of their home and a list of any celebrities they happen to know. Then other people can vote, on a scale of 1 to 100, on how awesome they are. At the end of the year, the ones with the most points are made homecoming king and queen, which, if I remember correctly, should immediately send their scores plummeting. If nothing else, it should finally rid us of Tila Tequila.

Posted by kkowatch at October 12, 2007 09:04 AM

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