Sunday, November 09, 2008


Facebook: The Art of Better Friending

Now that I’ve been using Facebook for about a year, I’d like to reflect on one of my personal milestones: my 200th friending. It took place in the spring, when my early friend drives were just starting to pay dividends.

My 200th Facebook friend was someone I had met some months earlier while we were both attending Korean language classes at Seoul National University. This case would require some very artful friending, because the only conversations we’d undertaken together had been, up to that point, limited to when we were assigned in-class practice together. On those occasions, one of us would say a serious of words we’d memorized, soon sending the other scrambling to his English-Korean dictionary after using a word the other had never heard.

A couple of months after that class ended, I was friended by another of our classmates from SNU, bringing my total up to 199. As I’m wont to do, I looked my latest Facebook friend’s list of acquaintances to see if there was anyone I knew. I quickly saw my potential Mr. 200, and sent him an invite.

I should point out at this time that, after sending some friend invites, you get acceptance in a day or so. Sometimes the person has just started using Facebook and therefore hasn’t become addicted to it, so you won’t get a reply for days. Mr. 200, however, accepted within minutes, probably because, unlike the high school and university alumni I’ve friended, he was in the same time zone.

Also unlike most friendings was the accompanying email that wound up in my Facebook inbox.

“Rob, how are you doing?” asked Mr. 200.

I was unsure of how to answer. Both of us were English-speakers, but the amount of English words we’d used on one another up to this point couldn’t fill a “By Mennen” jingle. Most of the words we had used were in a language so difficult for both of us that we’d had to memorize them before class, thus hardly making them authentic reflections of our personality.

I needed to say something, though; nothing disappoints more than having a new friending undone through botched netiquette, especially a critically-numbered friending like Mr. 200. So, I wrote something anyone could respond to.

Finally, I wrote: “I’m okay. Still in class. How about yourself?” It felt good to know that my netiquette was sharp, and prepared for our online world. This feeling lasted only another few minutes, though, before another reply arrived.

Mr. 200 told me that he’d given up on classes. Then, he asked me about how my weekend was going. One of the great trials of Facebook is knowing how to deal with those who don’t understand the purpose of friending.

The purpose, by the way, is to network, thus establishing a wider circle of acquaintances and to distributing information. Facebook users can post interesting stuff on their pages, having found some new batch of political, sporting or entertainment news. Through its apps, Facebook builds bridges between people who barely know each other, or who didn’t bother to get to know you when you were in your awkward high school phase.

Since we didn’t yet have a bridge built, I didn’t really want to write to Mr. 200 about my weekend. I didn’t particularly want to write to him about anything; I was at 199 Facebook friends and was hoping he’d get me over the hump. After all, there’s no telling who among the more popular members of my high school or university alumni might see my Facebook status one day, decide that 200 friends was a far better barometer of popularity than 199, and thus friend me.

Fortunately, in our online world, I know more than just the purpose of Facebook; I’ve also learned the trick to ending email conversations without making it seem like you’re ending them. The best way is to send a reply, but not actually say anything worth commenting about. Start by telling him/her about the most colossally boring event on your weekend calendar, and make it seem as though this is the central event of schedule: “I’m planning to wake up early tomorrow and cut the grass, provided the riding lawn mower will start,” or “I planning to eat a sandwich tonight, unless I’m out of whole wheat.”

If you so desire, throw in a message that implies friendliness and an interest in their personal affairs: “I hope all’s well” or “I wish you all the best.” Be careful here, though, and don’t actually ask if all’s well or is best, or else they might write again and update you as to their status.
I used one of these methods, I’m not saying which one (everyone must find their one proper method of friending) and soon I’d bagged Mr. 200, and was well on my way to greater friending heights. I’d severed the immediate connective thread, but kept the option of continued dialogue open in the future should either he or I actually have anything interesting to say.

“Having connections from all over the world and being able to keep in touch with old friends sounds good,” I can hear some of you saying to yourself. “But you make it sound so crass, as though using Facebook is an exercise in boosting superficial popularity, and you have to become a master of insincerity to excel in our globalized society.”

To which I would answer: You say that like it’s a bad thing. Some people aren’t ready for Facebook, and apparently you’re one of them. Practice on MySpace, or if necessary, Hi5 until you figure it out.

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