Striving to Understand Facebook Behavior

I’m not talking in this post about how Facebook continually changes its rules and its format.  Nor am I talking about how they do dirty tricks like sending you friend requests that they made up themselves, or how they post your email address and birthday for the world to see, even when you didn’t request any of that.  For that matter, I’m not even talking about how they’re so lazy in programming that they opted to do away with English classics like “his” and “her” and have simply substituted “their” as a new unisex standard for possessives.  (I suppose we should call that the Royal Third-Person Possessive.)

No, these things don’t take much effort to understand; Facebook is crass.  But you don’t need me to tell you that.

What I’m writing about here is the behavior of other subscribers.  Here’s what I’m wondering.

  1. Why do people that you haven’t seen in years and years send you a friend request with absolutely no message whatsoever?  I would expect at least something like:  “OMG, Jack! I can’t believe I found you on here.  How are you?”  Or, “Hey, I thought you’d be dead by now, but since you’re not, hi.”  Instead, however, I find that a great many people have nothing, it seems, to say.
  2. Why do people who have sent you a friend request say nothing in return when you accept the request and send them a personal message?  I have a hard time getting this one.  Yes, I got and responded to your wordless friend request.  So if you wanted to be my friend, why did you have no response to my message to you?  I wonder: was there a blue button by my message that says “Make Jack think you’re a real jerk by permanently ignoring his message to you.”?  If so, I’d like to inform Facebook that this feature doesn’t always work as intended.  Yes, sometimes I think people are jerks, but other times I find myself wondering if they just happened to drop dead between the moment they sent me the friend request and the moment when I replied 30 seconds later with a confirmation and a written message.
  3. When people do such things, I wonder:  are they merely gathering trophies as they gather “friend” confirmations? 

“Yep, I know him and him and her and her and him.  See, I’m somebody after all.  And in case anybody questions it, it says so right here—that these people are my friends.”

Well, that’s just sad.

Or perhaps this whole observation of mine is merely a glimpse into the sad state of our society—that we’re too ridiculously busy to communicate with one another in any substantive fashion.  If this is the case, then it would seem that the “Hi, how are you?” letter has now been replaced with the heartless friend request button.

I’m not sure that I can get very excited about that.

“Look, Honey, ol’ Billy sent me a friend request on Facebook.  You remember him, right?   He’s the stranger I spent three weeks with as we were the last survivors of a terrible shipwreck in the South Pacific thirty years ago.”

“Sure, I remember him.  What did he say?”


It’s like that.

Perhaps Allison Krauss started all this mess when she opined:

“You say it best when you say nothing at all.”

I, on the other hand, think that content-less communication is worse than empty; I think it indicates some deficit of mental wellness.

“Look, Honey, my long-lost Siamese twin Rufus appears to have single-clicked a ‘Friend Request’ button next to my name at Facebook.”

“Oh, that’s so sweet, dear!  I’m so glad to see that you two are finally back in touch!”

I wonder:  when mail was invented, did large numbers of people send empty envelopes in the mail to their old friends?

“Look, Honey, my long-lost Siamese twin Rufus has sent me an empty envelope in the mail!”

“Oh, that’s so sweet, dear!  I’m so glad to see that you two are finally back in touch!”

Perhaps this sort of senseless behavior could work in person, too.  Perhaps the next time I’m in a mall in my home town (which happens about every 20 years), and I see an old friend, I can run up to them, give them a big smile, and then walk away without a word…never to be seen again.

I’ve been pondering this sort of behavior for some time now and no attractive answer has found a home in my imagination; the answers are all fairly ugly.

My old friend Jim is insanely busy, but even though we only get to communicate once every few weeks or so, we seem to be able to carry on an extended conversation just fine.  In contrast, there’s Garrett, to whom I’m able to speak quite often.  And again, we still discuss topics we’ve been discussing for decades….in an ongoing discussion.  And then there’s Kay, the grand discussion with whom has been ebbing and flowing ceaselessly since day one.  In the cases of friends like these, to have nothing at all to say would be to belie the friendship, for the friendship is about the communication.

It is difficult, therefore, to imagine just what Facebook means by the word “Friend”.

In response to them, I am forced to adopt the immortal observation of Inigo Montoya:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. ” ~Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

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