Imaginary friends: is social networking fooling you?
A recent study offered new information (as recent studies always do) that human beings are incapable of having more than 150 friends, and that the majority of people on Facebook are actually kidding themselves if they think they really do have five thousand of the buggers. I’m talking to you, Tila Tequila.
This did rather alarm me. Firstly because I thought that we were officially humanly capable of having 300 friends (that’s what the last, slightly less recent study said anyway), but mainly this bothered me because I’m a social networking slag (and a social slag in general) who only has to meet someone once and like them before I add them on Facebook.
So, with this in mind, I thought I’d have quick whizz through my friends list and see if I could prove this so-called study wrong. Just because people who spend all their time doing studies don’t have any friends, that doesn’t mean the rest of us have the same problem.
First, though, I had to settle on the term ”Ëfriend’. I decided that this should mean someone I would happily do a favour for, or ask a favour from, in real life and without a second thought.
So, I armed myself with this theoretical scenario:
I imagined I had cat. Then imagined that I was going on holiday, and there was nobody around to feed it – I mean ”Ëhim”Ë (theoretical cats are people too). In order to fit the friend criteria, the people I was looking for would be the ones I would happily trouble by asking them to come round and feed it (if they theoretically lived nearby, obviously), trusting them not to think I was being a cheeky bitch, and trusting them not to be appalled by the state of my house. And then, I would have to imagine that this situation was reversed, and that I would also do the same for them.
As there are around 800 people in my friends list – from an extended music community, work, education, social and virtual life – and I don’t dislike any of them (including the ones I don’t really know), I couldn’t imagine that the number of people I would happily ring up out of the blue would be any less than about half that number.
Yep, I was pretty confident.
So, here are the results:
After a quick scroll through the list, and excluding family members and profiles that aren’t actually people, the number of ”Ëfriends’ I would actually impose myself on is”Â¦
”Â¦ a mere 162.
Not quite what I expected. So what does it mean? Not just for me, I can’t be the only one who dismissed these recent findings, only to realise that their virtual friendships lull them into a false sense of popularity.
Well, looking at the rest of my own list, it probably means that meeting someone once or twice doesn’t mean one feels qualified to bother them in real life. Facebook friendships aren’t a false intimacy exactly, but they are incorrectly labeled as friendships when they’re actually more like being in a crowded pub with a load of people you’re acquainted with to varying degrees.
With most of us being too busy, or too far away, to see the people we know on a regular basis, it’s often spouted by webphobes that social networking is killing real life social interaction.
But even though I was surprised at the conversion gap between my online friendships and my real life ones, I don’t buy the idea that social networking is having a negative impact on our ability to make real friends in 3D.
Instead, it’s the use of the word ”Ëfriends’ that I think I contest. We need another word for the relationships we have with people online that, although friendly, don’t necessarily translate into automatic kinship.