Later this week Facebook is supposed to launch a feature that allows you to categorize your social sphere in much the same way Google+ has done. They’ll be called “Friends Lists” and will offer three categories: close friends, acquaintances, restricted. Of course, it will be too publicly displayed and with a far less convenient UI than G+, but so be it.
Privacy and filtration are great. Really super. I give those things an A+. But don’t those things sort of interfere with some of the really wonderful aspects of interacting in the social media space? Namely, realizing people are cooler than you thought they might be? Or even,getting to know people better than you otherwise would have?
I have a hundred or so Facebook friends who I’ve never actually met in person. Remote colleagues and former colleagues, friends of friends, and a few people I met just once. If these filter systems were available in the first place, I probably wouldn’t have given these groups any kind of prominence in my online social hierarchy. For this reason, I’m glad there were no categories in the beginning. Because I’ve learned so much about so many people, and have shared thoughts and ideas with so many of these near-strangers that I feel grateful for.
If you’re my Faceplace friend, you know I go for it. I’m into it. The whole social media thing. I like to share the details of my days. Likewise, I’m into seeing what’s going on with other people. The construction of a pergola, for example, in the backyard of a former colleague, was a project whose progress I was genuinely interested in following. I like to know and see what you made for dinner, even if we haven’t spoken directly in twelve years. I can’t say why. I just like it. I’ve been heartened, touched and inspired watching a very public and deeply personal struggle with addiction play out in the status updates of a hilarious and totally unique woman – a friend of a friend – whom I’ve never met. With the new layers and levels and pick-and-choosings, I’m afraid I might be excluded from these little tidbits. Not because anyone would want to specifically exclude me. More because I think it would be natural to assume that this chick you once met at a business-mixer one time might not give a hoot about your backyard pergola or homemade pierogis.
But I do care! I do!
When I first set up my G+ circles, I was excited to have an “anything goes” circle. Then I realized that most of the people I’d share my naughty posts with already know the naughty stuff. They’re the people I interact with regularly already. They’re the folks I trust and are the people with whom I am entirely unabashed in the first place. So who really cares? I can email them directly if I want. Maybe it’s just the personal little thrill I get from being inappropriate, and then seeing unexpected “likes” from unexpected “friends” in unexpected places that I’ll miss.
Privacy is so crucial, in so many ways, at this time in history. We hear stories all the time about people who said or did something on Facebook or Twitter that cost them a relationship, their reputation, and in some cases (ohai!) a job. That said, when I had my own holy-shit, social-media-just-lost-me-my-job moment, no privacy filter would have saved me. To make this personal – because I have an unconquerable compulsion to make everything personal – the people who did me in (there were two of them, I later learned) would have been in my top tiers, had a tier/circle/layer system been in place. They were friends. People I thought were friends. I would have allotted them an upper echelon in my social caste system (especially if I only had 3 layers to choose from, Facebook…). In the end, it was human nature that was the problem, and ain’t no filtration system in the world can help us out there.
The attempt to make social media more closely resemble real life interactions is noble, but futile. There are two main failings.
One is that our lives and relationships with other people are dynamic, constantly evolving, rising and falling with the tides, yah? Every time a person falls in or out of favor in some incremental way, we’re not going to open our apps and bump them up a notch. Likely we’ll drop people into these Facebook or G+ categories and leave them there. Forever. So even when our relationships evolve in real life, they’ll never see that you decided to “like” Ducky DooLittle’s Kickstarter Project or that you recently updated your website. Even if you want them to.
The other is that it doesn’t matter if only a limited group of people are invited to see certain posts. Because in one way, things are the same on- or offline. If you talk shit, people are going to find out. If you share something personal with only 5 people, you can be sure it’ll disseminate to 20, especially those bits you least hope will travel.
Either way, here’s my shout out to all my current Facebook friends: I hope you’ll keep me in your top tier. I hope I make it to the “close friends” category, even if we’re not. Because I sure would hate to miss seeing your kids in their halloween costumes, the drunken “I’m in a thong on my lawn!” 4am posts, the links to articles you’ve written or art you’ve made, the witty truisms you thought up on the pot, the pictures of crazy people on the subway hiding pigeons in their parkas, the non-profit projects for which you’d like support and all the other simple, boring, mundane, beautiful details of your lives.