It’s hard to find a Facebook-free zone these days. As of March 2013, Facebook reported 1.15 billion users worldwide, 166 million in the United States alone. That works out to 52.9% of all Americans. Staggering.
A colleague and I are among the holdouts. We don’t friend or tweet. We don’t pin. She’s never joined a social network and neither have I, unless you count that week-long bender back in 2008. They found me at the end of it passed out in a dumpster.
But my colleague is rethinking her position. Not because she wants for human contact, but because, as she put it recently, “When they buy a house, we’ll be the last to know.” Her son and his wife are house-hunting, you see, and since my colleague and her husband travel in social circles that aren’t identical to their children’s, her news of them isn’t always as hot off the presses as she’d like it to be.
I sympathize, but isn’t that the natural order of things? Except, I guess, in remote villages where multi-generational households are the rule? Has there been a time since the Industrial Revolution when urban parents could reasonably expect to be the first to know?
By the same token, and since time immemorial, hasn’t it been the case that people grow apart? That old acquaintances are forgot?
My own admittedly brief Facebook experience convinced me of at least one thing: social networking sites aren’t magic bullets. Sure, we might locate and “friend” 100 former classmates and twice that many distant relatives, but how many of those people will be sending us Christmas cards? How many will we invite to our next backyard barbeque? To our daughter’s wedding?
Dunbar’s number suggests that individual human beings are physically incapable of maintaining more than 150 relationships at any given time. It might follow, then, that friend counts numbered in the hundreds or thousands are … what might they be? Harmless fantasies, maybe. Or fashionable affectations.
Or are we witnessing the birth of an entirely new social organism? And if we are, what will become of those of us who boycott the christening?