An addicted insider’s account of our real lives in the era of the realtime, social web.

Confession #43: We’re Not Exactly ‘Friends’

The moment I first logged onto Compuserve in the 1980s and got a glimmer of the impending social web, I came to the horrifying conclusion that you’d eventually be able to use online tools to track me down. In the meantime, I was a misanthrope and avoided public events. I remained in the antisocial shadows and I lived in fear of hearing life’s most dreaded seven words, “Is that Dave Pell from high school?” A few times I even walked with a limp and spoke with a fake accent to avoid any kind of interaction.

To you, it seemed like we lost touch. For me, it was like starring in my own personal version of The Fugitive.

My strategy worked for more than two decades until you found the broken down, shadowy pile of virtual flesh and bones that is me on Facebook. I ignored you for awhile, but after hundreds of pings and pokes from you and increasingly aggressive suggestions from mutual acquaintances, I accepted your request. I then quickly removed you – and your Farmville updates – from my incoming stream of news and updates and haven’t seen or heard from you since.

Now does that make us friends?

According to the new definition of that word in the world of Facebook, yes, I suppose it does. As this NYT piece explains, Facebook has forced new definitions of words such as like and friend to enter our communal dictionary.

I recently “liked” a story about five people dying in an explosion in Connecticut.

I didn’t actually “like” the fact that five people had died in a terrible accident. Technically, I didn’t even “like” the story — I found the reporting and writing informative and the narrative engrossing, but not the contents of the piece. On Facebook, however, the only option I had to tell people I had read the article was to either add a comment or press the little “like” button that appears at the bottom of everyone’s status update…

“Like” clearly isn’t the only word that is seeing a change to its context or understanding. We are starting to perceive the word “friend” differently, too, thanks to social networking services.

And we can assume that the Facebook definitions will ultimately impact (if not completely replace) the existing definitions of these words – unless Webster’s suddenly gets another 400 million users of its dictionary.

Maybe these new definitions aren’t so bad. For eight years after high school, I consistently referred to a former classmate as my girlfriend even though we hadn’t once seen each other since graduation. And today she’s my wife. A real wife, not just the internet kind.

So sure, let’s be friends. But maybe we should also come up with a new word that means what the old word friend used to mean. In the meantime, it’s back to fake limp.


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My name is Dave Pell, internet superhero. This blog provides an addicted insider's account of what's happening to us in the era of the realtime, social web. You can read more about the site, grab the rss feed, follow me on twitter, join the Facebook page, or get email updates.