Relationship: It’s Complicated

15 thoughts on “Relationship: It’s Complicated”

  1. Great thoughts on facebook here. Some things that stood out to me as I was reading was how this interface as you mention creates simplistic/black&white categories of our relationships with the exception of “it’s complicated” which might be the most honest one.

    I wonder if Facebook, as you question, really represents or misrepresents the depth of our social life and even social identity along the lines of our “status updates”. You brilliantly mention, “That is not the way relationships works. When two people get closer they don’t pull a contract to formulate the friendship.Relationship is not an on/off thing, it changes and it is reshaped. It cannot even be placed on a single continuum, it is multidimensional and is very, very hard to quantify.” I completely agree, and I think this is why it has devalued our social intimacy and understanding of what it means to be a friend, hence, why do I feel guilty for not accepting my mother/grandmother as a friend. ( I did not accept my mother by the way because it felt invasive of my own personal and social identity online, much like allowing your mother to hang out with your friends in real life versus her knowing who your friends are). Why have friendships been reduced to contractual agreements?
    I think this reflects much of our culture today. For example, look at how we view and value the “supposedly sacred” relationship of marriage today. Unsurprisingly, a lot of individuals and couples treat marriage as a short-lived romantic business relationship. When the going-gets tough, let me divorce you. Where’s the commitment? My point is that Facebook’s notions of frienships online illuminates the fragility and superficiality of our relationships and our viewpoints about relationships in real life. Thus, the ease of which we treat agree to bind ourselves to these contractual acquaintances, where it’s very easy to accept you even when I don’t really know you that well and it’s hard to reject or ignore you (guilty). Why do I feel such pressure? It leaves me to believe that the social networking of facebook is merely inflated to such a large degree and that a very large percentage of the friends or better said, “contacts” on my Facebook network aren’t really my friends. But as you exclaim, this has everything to do with the interface and how it’s boxing us in to these simplistic options when something like friendship, identity, or even love aren’t so simple. You ask, “In that sense what’s so wrong about Facebook giving us a tool to manage and present this?” It is very much our fault. Facebook just gave us a simplistic model that further encourages our limited understanding of social relationships. I guess it’s safe to ask – what constitutes a friend or in other words how do we value, qualify, or define friendship?

    You ask, “So it is (hard) impossible to constantly be ahead of ourselves, but even if we could, would the FB interface provide us the tools to really express our emotions? With regards to the status updates, you are right, we always playing catch up to change the concreteness of our status, feelings, etc. that continue to remain the same and fall victim to time unless we constantly try to “update” it. So in essence, I would argue that online identity is always behind our real-life self because of our incessant need to update. Moreover, for many, this becomes an addiction, to reaffirm to others in and outside of their social network e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc. how one is doing, feeling, thinking, etc. It makes me question the very motivation to why people publicize their private sentiments, thoughts, pictures, videos, and more. Do we REALLY value privacy and personal or in this day and age is it something of the past. I would argue that we live in a culture that is increasingly pushing for more “openness” and “transparency” which challenges our notions of privacy, security, etc. by challenging us to expose ourselves to others/the world. And so we are left open, vulnerable, and probably insecure to defend criticism or other attacks at the expense of the pressure to conform to openness and transparency.

    Lastly, I think it good thing to keep your enemies closer so that it can expand your understanding of the world instead of us increasingly polarizing ourselves with ‘like-minded’ people with the same views. However, one way or another I believe that we will have to choose sides, or if we really become confused, we might just think its best to remain in the middle (opposed to choose). Again, I’m speaking very generally, but overall, Facebook has it’s pros and cons and yes, it’s not going away. We are spending a lot of time online, and on Facebook, Twitter, etc. so it’s important to think about and try to understand ‘what it is we are really involving and engaging ourselves with’. What Facebook was then and what it is now is different. I feel that as people continued to catch on and it grew, money obviously entered the picture and further influenced the integrity of the system to corporate and commercial agendas to where people do start questioning their privacy settings. The bigger something gets the harder it is to maintain. I’m done. Thank you for making me think more profoundly.

    Oh, by the way, some of your tips and hack links don’t work properly.

    1. Boy Ryan… what a long comment, thanks!
      Glad you enjoyed the post. Would you retry the userscript? is down, but for now I linked it to my site. Should work now.

  2. Fascinating read, thank you for this.

    Two thoughts:

    When I started using flickr, I remember having the dilemma of whether to add people as *contacts* or *friends* (I believe you could also tag someone as *family*, which is quite unique for a social network).
    In practicality, this means that friends can view your private stuff, while contacts can’t. It makes a lot of sense for photographers, for instance, to be able to post their professional portfolio publicly, and at the same time tag an endless collection of baby photos “friends-only” so that a private space is created for friends and family to ooooh and aaaah.
    At the beginning I was very generous adding friends, but when I realized this had no meaning to me since I have no private pictures, I gradually stopped “friending” and now I only add contacts, regardless of the nature of our relationship.

    In its privacy settings, Facebook lets you define what friends-of-friends can see, and I think this should grow to be a more prominent feature. As you mentioned, our friends list is defined as we happen to shape it, and it’s interesting to find out how many users mindlessly add friends, and how many actually think about whether to confirm a friend or not. To have more control over what friends-of-friends can see and interact with will add a second circle of contacts that will enable us to ignore requests and perhaps feel a little less guilt doing so… :>

    1. Flickr’s example is interesting. It was also very functional – you would know the function of these settings was privacy in image sharing. You could define these settings easily on an image-by-image level or through editting images as a batch. You could also set something as private. Flickr’s terminology was quite sincere too:

      Smoochi has added you as a contact.
      Make them a contact too?
      If you don’t know Smoochi, she is probably a fan of your photostream or wants a bookmark so she can find you again. There is no obligation for you to reciprocate, unless you want to. :)

      No confirm, no ignore, no emotional manipulation, and it’s all about privacy of your photos, not entirety of your social life…

      Re: Friends of friends. While I agree that we need more control, I don’t agree that we want to exert more control (a lot of work) or that we can understand how any of our data is viewed or that we could ever really use an interface that would do that (beyond my suggestion to a direct heart/brain Facebook connect).

      I think at this point the premise of Facebook is broken as it will always fail its mission. Our social life are too complex for FB, something gotta give, I would suggest that something be FB (changing its terminology and extensive mission) rather than our social life (dumbed down, crippled).

      Twitter is a great example: no friends – only followers. Privacy settings – you either run a private account or you don’t. No attempt to recreate your social graph and definitely room for following your opposition.

  3. By the way, lol, after reading your post, I went onto my Facebook and deleted probably more than 100 so called “friends”. So my social network has been trimmed down tremendously now. Thank you for inspiring me. I’ll retry that userscript. Thanks.

  4. Mushonove,
    Since you write so beautiful on inner net communication in a … blog (tautology?), I find it necessary to hear/read your point of view regarding …. blogs communication (or did I miss it?).

    1. Dear Shai,
      To answer your question, I actually do see an enormous difference between posting on a blog versus posting on Facebook. Here are some of the differences:

      1. Data ownership:
        I own the data on my blog, I can choose to save it, I can choose to share it and I can use to delete it. I don’t need to sign an End User License Agreement (EULA) or to watch out for unilateral changes of service conditions.
      2. Data portability:
        If this blog does not serve me well I can choose to take my data and move it somewhere else. The information is not locked into the platform.
      3. Privacy, intimacy and social context:
        My information is shared by me, not by a system spreading it all over out of context. I can choose to make it private or limit access, but even if I don’t the readers of my blog are reading *my* blog, this is *my* context, and not some chaotic identity marketplace.
        With the new Facebook “Open Graph” every page you visit on the web that embeds a Facebook “like” button will identify you as Shai Zurim, and Facebook would know you visited the site and if you choose to “like” it, it will inform other visitors of that site of your preference as well.
      4. Interface control:
        This blog was developed (by me) based on the Open Source WordPress blogging software. I can change it to express who I am according to my own preferences. That’s why my projects can appear on the sidebar together with links to classes I teach. It is custom made to fit me, unlike the one-size, unisex, identity flattener that is Facebook.
      5. I could go on…

      There are several attempts to develop distributed peer to peer social networking, where the users will have control of their own profiles and identities while still enjoying the sociability and exchange that a network provides. These attempts are quite complicated technologically, but it is actually something we are looking at with my own OS project ShiftSpace.

  5. Mushon,

    I suppose that being as old as your mother puts me in that age group between yours and that of your grandma. That is probably the reason why I am less consumed with guilt when I ignore friend requests from total strangers unless they can give me a very good reason for wanting to be my friend. In my age it is easier.

    Don’t get me wrong. I can relate very much to this post as well as to Ryan’s comment, but instead of letting FB take over my life, I became a smart user, and find it very useful.

    I use it moderately and not even everyday. I don’t publish my every minutes actions and my status is only updated when I have something to say which is worth sharing.
    I was able to track down and get back in touch with people all over the world I lost contact with many years ago. It keeps me updated with what is going on with my true friends, colleagues and relatives. I simply block the “friends” I don’t want on my screen such as very young family member. This feature allows me to keep them around but in a safe distance.

    My partner who sits in the next room publishes pictures as he enjoys doing that on FB and this turned into a fun way for us to talk about things. It is a trigger to start a conversation for two very busy people as we are.
    He flew out to Boston yesteday to attend a hight school reunion, which is also thanks to FB. Some people convinced him they remembered him. Otherwise he would have never have dared to go after 40 years.

    I publish pictures from events aimed mainly for the ones who were unable to attend . I even use it to promote business events.
    I don’t become a fan or “like” groups that I have no interest in, and I don’t suggest friends to others.

    Using your grandma to make a point was a good idea. However, in her specific case (as I happen to know her), I believe her friends request to you had one reason only. She just wanted to show you what a cool grandma she is. She never writes on FB nor do many other friends I should have ignored before this turned into a real flud.
    Therefore it is actually OK to confirm friends and block them later, as it leaves all sides the option to use the personal message system on FB.
    This feature actually was very helpful today when a business e-mail I sent today was returned with an error, but went through on FB no problem.

    So, as always in life, age has its effect on how we do things, and using FB is no different.
    Bottom line as you said, the technology is there and how we use it is up to us.

    Love your writing,


    1. Dear Yud,
      You said:

      I simply block the “friends” I don’t want on my screen such as very young family member. This feature allows me to keep them around but in a safe distance.

      You should realize that even though your exactly (!) the same age as my mother, you are a power-user, and you are probably more media savvy than ~97% of the other Facebook users out there. This makes you someone who will go and edit her privacy settings to protect her privacy more than other users.
      But what about how you’re exposed to other less aware users content? How is the fact your contacts are exposing their identity performance to the rest of their “friends” affecting you? Your friends perform their identity, your work-colleagues perform their identity, your family-members perform their identity, your family-members friends perform their identity. They don’t plan to perform it to you, but they end up doing that anyway.
      Even though you’re a part of the tiny minority that adjusts their privacy settings, you are still affected by others lack of doing so. (it’s complicated…)

      1. Although I am flattered to be included in the 3 percent media power users, you lost me here. Why would the fact that others expose themselves affect me?

        I discussed the subject today with some friends (verbally). It has been said that those who have hundreds of friends on FB should not be envied. These people should go out there and get a life. Then again I know a young man who has a very successful blog about music, who claims that he confirms each and every friend request, and he does so for one purpose only….to promote his own blog, which is something I can relate to.
        It seems that the smart ones will always be a minority and use FB wisely, while the majority will keep on the herd behaviour in the way they are using facebook, or writing talkbacks or even the way they dress. I see no difference.

        1. This music blogger dude you mentioned is using Facebook as a public outreach tool, and by doing that he’s giving up the intimacy aspect that used to be what made FB unique and got so many people invested in it. He is using FB the way you would use Twitter (which is how I have been using it in the past year). If he makes sure not to compromise his privacy by doing that, then he would probably fit within this 3% (a number I made up). If he’s a blogger, he’s already more savvy, these guys along with some techies, PR people, educators, media studies students, they usually have a better idea of the ins and outs of this thing. Yet I’m pretty sure FB’s original interaction-promise (intimacy) that got all of us to trust it with a lot of very personal data would get even this mysterious blogger you mentioned to compromise their privacy more often than they would like to admit…

          Beyond that, Facebook’s friends of friends flexibility allows users to expose their friends data to other users and to third party companies. And pretty often they don’t know or don’t acknowledge the implications of that.

          To put it other words, if any of your contacts are not savvy enough to make the best judgment about their own privacy, your intimacy is effected as well.

  6. I found your article to be quite intriguing. I do like your idea of adding the grease monkey layer, and changing “friends” to “contacts” or even “acquaintances”. I might use it myself. I personally don’t know what to do with my Facebook page because of all the events that come my way. I use Facebook as an appointment book and black book for all friends/enemies/old acquaintances and the like. I hesitated to add my mother to my Facebook page, because I felt that someone that is so close to me doesn’t need to be part of my Facebook network, she is part of my “physical” network so to do speak.

    As for the friend/defriending – I have a few “acquaintances” who are constantly trying to “friend” me and I add them, and then de-friend them so they don’t realize I’m gone. For those who I reject, they seem to keep coming back. I believe Facebook gives people more “balls” to do things they wouldn’t necessarily do in the physical world.

    I wonder where this platform will be in 5 years and how it will effect how individuals interact with one another. I must remind a few of my friends at times that, Facebook is NOT reality, and speaking of it in conversations as if certain events occurred in the physical realm is not valid.

    When MySpace was first introduced I was very skeptical to join, but I was SO lost in my friend’s conversations that after 2 years I joined. I rid of that account, and with much peer pressure I joined Facebook (after being told its “Cleaner” just to keep up with what was happening in my friend’s lives/conversations.

    Web 2.0 suicide always looks more and more appealing after I think about this topic ;)

  7. Mushon,
    This is a great piece. Now whenever people ask my why I’m not on Facbeook, I can point them to this piece. It is a much more rational explanation and clearly outlines every single reason that I feel uncomfortable with the thought of joining it. I appreciate Honieh’s comment also – that Facebook is not reality, but the problem is that so many people think that it is (or even if they don’t really think that, they make assumptions and decisions as though it were). I cherish my friendships because they are friendships. Period. And not have Facebook makes it so much easier. Of course I feel left out of certain things – pictures of my little cousins mostly :) but I feel much saner this way. People think I’m crazy, but I’m not. Thanks for writing this.

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