Every New Year’s Eve, I clean out my Facebook friends list by unfriending people who I no longer have a genuine connection with. Usually, I find that they’re people I skip over or are no longer relevant to me — someone who I’ve lost connection to. This year, I went the full mile and brought the roughly 600 friends down to exactly 150. Even then, I could see profiles that were on the fence that I would consider to be an actual friend. However, I can safely say that I have a definite connection with each and every one of those 150 people.
A term that I enjoy throwing around is the “bar number”; it’s just another phrase I use in place of Dunbar’s number, which he informally expressed in his book Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language as:
the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar (77).
The definition seems to fit. If I wanted to, I could walk up to any of those 150 people and start a conversation with them. There’s no need to jog their memory with “Remember me from last weekend?”
Unfortunately, social media has extended its reach so far that it’s come to define people’s lives and even shift the meaning of words. Taking a look through Google Books’ Ngram Viewer, which displays how often any word has been used in all books from 1800-2008, shows that the terms “friend” and “friends” recovering from an all-time low, as it would seem so.
Facebook, the main culprit, has watered down the meaning of the word entirely. Once upon a time, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it meant someone with whom you share mutual, platonic feelings of affection or esteem. Now, it’s getting closer to something like:
friend: [noun] someone you know of or once knew.
Interestingly enough, once you dip below a certain number of friends on Facebook, the website presents you with a small button at the top labeled “find friends”. There, you can browse through profiles suggested to you through the number of mutual friends. This is entertaining because if the person you’re looking for is an actual friend in real life, it wouldn’t take a suggestion to help find them. It’s even funnier when someone tries to add you and Facebook says, “Only accept Friend Requests from people you really know.” (That’s word for word.)
Eventually, the number of friends and followers turns into a numbers game. Whether it’s to get likes on your photos or look more popular to others, social media turns people into superficial data — it takes the humanity and the meaning out of the word friend.
Use this as a bit of an extreme example. Up to 11 million people perished as a result of the Holocaust. Even with such a shocking number, it isn’t enough to make someone too terribly upset. If you give the same person a chance to watch The Pianist or Schindler’s List, most will be bawling by the end as these films give a far more personable account to the genocide.
The same could be said about friends. Having even two thousand friends on any social media website isn’t even comparable to having a dozen quality relationships in the real world.
You don’t need friends to be likable. You need to be likable to find friends. It doesn’t matter how many friends you have.
It doesn’t matter how many friends you have. It matters how many genuine relationships you’ve formed. This is really when the adage “quality over quantity” comes into play.
Every single one of us has the ability to pick and choose who we want in our lives. It’s not a scenario where a teacher is randomly putting us into groups anymore. As adults, we have the power to choose who we invest our energy in. If someone you know is constantly dragging your mood down with negativity, slowly wean them off of your radar.
I challenge you, in the next week or so, to look at who really brings you happiness and who doesn’t. Weed some of them out. Sure, you might look bad to a person or two, but in the long run, you’re only benefiting yourself.
Thanks for reading.