Social networking guilt

Facebook makes me feel guilty. It’s not because the popular social networking site takes bites out of my workday, and it has nothing to do with my self-initiated compulsion to post news items for my friends to ignore (while they chat back and forth, lamenting the end of Scrabulous as they knew it). No, my guilt comes solely from a little link in the right-hand column: People you may know.

Now, I’m not a Facebook guru. The site became popular after I had already graduated with a master’s degree, so my 180 or so friends pales in comparision to some of the friend tallies I’ve seen on freshmen’s pages. I don’t add applications willy-nilly, either. Compared to the application-crammed, trailer trash, MySpace-like pages I’ve seen on Facebook recently, mine is decidedly spartan, and I conceitedly think myself evolved because of that.

In fact, about the only game I play on Facebook is the friend collection game: trying to reconnect with as many forgotten or nearly forgotten friends as I can. The rules are simple. Add only people you really know or people you have really met. The challenge of my little game comes in tracking down people who I haven’t seen in years, people who have changed their names or moved away to different places I know not of. The mystery makes this game an entertaining forensic challenge; I imagine analysts at the CIA play similar games when tracking down spies or terrorists, and it gives me a little nerdy thrill.

So imagine my delight when Facebook introduced the “People you may know” link. It immediately allowed me to add friends I didn’t know were on Facebook. I’m not sure of how that page works, but imagine it goes something like this. I have friend A and friend B. Both A and B are friends with C, so maybe I know C too. And voila, a pageful of helpful suggestions.

But since then, my list of people I may know has grown thin. I now find myself hoping to make contact with another friend without the tool, or hoping that my friends add new friends, thereby shuffling the deck and adding new faces to the people I may know page.

But that’s not what makes me feel guilty. Amid all this social networking in front of my computer screen, I have noted that some of the faces on my might-know page are familiar to me. I know the names. I heard them around campus, either because my friends mentioned them or because they were involved in something particularly social (in the real world sense). Yet I never met these people. I don’t know them.

I have to think that Facebook is subtly, hopefully unintentionally, shaming me. Had I gone to one more party or attended one more social event or volunteered my time for something worthwhile, I might have met these people. But as it was, I was an English major, meaning that I kept to myself and my library — an introvert of some significance.

I could add these people as Facebook friends. They’d probably even accept the invitation since my name probably floated around their ears in the same way theirs floated around mine (I wasn’t completely cloistered throughout college, you know) and beacuse that’s how social networking sites work. You accept some friends you don’t know that well because it can’t hurt to add them to your list, right?

Something about that rubs me the wrong way though. Can I add a friend I don’t really know, someone I’ve never really met? Something about that seems morally wrong to me. Plus, there’s the possibility that they reject my invitation, saying quietly to themselves as they click the “deny” button, “Who’s this guy?” It’s not like Facebook sends you an e-mail to tell you that someone has rejected your advance, but the message comes across. I don’t think I could stand that kind of Information Age rejection, where your friendly advances disappear into the cloud and are never heard from again.

It’s a wicked game I have invented for myself, full of interpretation, intuition and subtlety. I think the CIA spies would be proud.

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