Ever heard that your wealth
is determined by the size of your network?
Well, if you haven't, you're hearing it now.
This is not a revolutionary idea someone recently came up
with. Thirty years ago, Ethernet co-inventor Robert
Metcalfe, in his eponymous Metcalfe's Law, stated that the
value of a (telecommunications) network is proportional to
the square of the number of its connected users.
Knell's Law, applied to social networks, states that
the value of your network is inversely proportional to the
amount of time you waste on it on Facebook.
In my article
Friendship In The Post
Internet World, I wrote about how Facebook has created
the new virtual list of friends, the V-list.
For the younger generation who've only experienced a
world with Facebook and other social networks in it, every
friend they've ever had will appear in their V-list.
The rest of us have to take the time to manually dig
up these old contacts.
I am now officially declaring that I've
permanently retired from that task.
The digging up of old contacts from long ago for the
sake of "catching up" is as over as Charlie Sheen's next
there, done that.
I am all behind building up networks,
but real networks, of people whose lives I'm truly
interested in, who might be of assistance to me or me to
them at some future juncture.
I am not interested in creating vast but powerless
networks of Facebook postees I met once in my entire
life telling the greater universe about baking chocolate chip cookies as
fresh lily white snow falls outside.
For a society obsessed with "meeting
the numbers", Facebook is great.
Members amass hundreds, thousands, possibly millions
of friends, forming networks of significant breadth but
short on depth. Very
short on depth -- I met people in Los Angeles deeper than
some of these Facebook networks. Were I to run into some of
my Facebook "friends" on the street, I doubt a quarter of
them would even know who I was.
As a joke, I thought about befriending 10 random
people just to see if they'd approve me as their friend.
The real joke though would be on me.
After they approved my friendship requests, I'd be
stuck reading their iterations about toilet breaks and
Last month were the straws which broke
the camel's back.
The first incident involved half of a pair of
Canadian fraternal twins getting in touch with me out of the
blue on Facebook.
It was great rekindling that tie.
I had last seen Steve and his twin brother Stan
fifteen years ago when we met at the Indian-Nepalese border
and trekked Nepal together.
Steve answered my queries about what direction his
life had taken and e-mailed me a few scanned photographs
from our 1995 Nepal trip.
Naturally, my next step was to befriend Stan as well
and catch up with him.
Stan approved my friendship request and that was it.
He didn't exchange a single personal word with me.
Stan and I are conducting what I call a
He never contacts me, and now, after his first silent
reaction, I will never contact him again.
An interesting exercise I should perform is to tally
up the percentage of my Facebook "friends" I write at least
one personal message to per year.
I've procrastinated doing this.
I'm afraid of the depressing results.
Likely, more than 50%, quite possibly 70%, of my
Facebook buddies are silent friends.
The second incident happened a couple
of weeks ago.
I was working on a travel article for Doug's Republic
and all of the sudden the names of a sexuagenarian couple I
knew in my California days came to mind.
The miracle of the internet at my fingertips, I
tapped their names into the search engines and found the
female party's profile on Facebook.
Through her, her husband's.
I immediately sent out friendship requests to them
Within 24 hours, both had approved me.
This time, being the initiator of our 'reunion', I
held back on providing full updates, waiting to see how
they responded first.
The man wrote "Where did you wind up?"; the woman,
"We miss you.
Where are you?"
I replied and added that the full updates on my life in the
five years since last we'd seen each other were to be found
here. This time
around, I wasn't even
going to waste the effort of typing in the updates
Checking my logs several days later, neither ever bothered
visiting the About Doug section of Doug's Republic or any
page on the site.
The catch up was complete with just four words:
I am in Thailand.
So, after all is said and
done, what did I get out of that experience but more names
to add to my V-list, more people to add to my already high
percentage of silent friendships? With
such a miniscule reward, why would I search out more people
who once graced my friendship lists and make them part of my
There's nothing in it for me.
Thirteen years ago, when I first moved
to Los Angeles, I considered looking up an old friend from
college, Orbay. Orbay
was two years older than I, an electrical engineering major.
During my sophomore year at Cornell, he occupied the
single room adjacent to mine and was the only halfway normal guy (in my humble
opinion) of the six people occupying our suite. Unknown to
me at the time, Orbay was already on academic probation. As
the first term of Orbay's senior year concluded, his poor
performance was repeated.
Cornell's policy at that time was to kick you out of
school for one term.
Time away from the classroom was to be spent assessing
one's educational direction.
Orbay had a brother living in Silicon Valley and
moved out there.
We kept in touch by phone in this
ancient pre-internet and pre-email age.
When my sophomore year concluded in May, I signed up
for an Outward Bound course for 3-weeks in the Sierra Nevada
Mountains. My trip
originated in Fresno, California.
Orbay heard about my trip and suggested I book
another flight to San Francisco from Fresno to see him after
my course concluded.
It was the last time I saw Orbay. That was way back
in 1988. I
spent a year abroad that fall and heard from Orbay only once
or twice until I graduated college.
Without e-mail addresses and social networks and with
lots of relocation on both our parts, we lost touch.
I found Orbay in an old Santa Barbara
phone book around 1998 and almost called him.
As more information became available online, sometime
in the early 2000's I found him to be living in northern
California, in the Silicon Valley area, married to the
college girlfriend I'd last seen him with in
1988. Later, I
discovered his family's personal web site. He was now the
father of four.
I still held back from getting in touch, even after sourcing
his e-mail address from the family web site.
My reasoning then was the same as it is
now, only now I'm ever surer of my beliefs.
I hadn't seen Orbay in years.
We were in different stages of our lives.
How would I feel if getting in touch with him wasn't
what I was hoping it would be? It
could be like the bad TV reunion special of a classic television series. The past was the past, leave it alone.
I threw his e-mail address into the trash.
That was well over 5 years ago, long before Facebook
became the smash it is now.
Since passing up the chance to rekindle ties with
Orbay, I've been solicited to become friends with plenty of
figures from my past, all with unsatisfactory results.
I just checked.
Orbay has his own Facebook page.
I could relight that torch now, but why bother?
I've lived long enough to experience
making close friends as a young adult, lose touch with them,
and then be given the opportunity through the internet to
revisit those old friendships if I so wish.
In the beginning, it was natural to be idealistic
about getting back in touch with friends long lost.
As this became more and more commonplace, and I saw
the old friendships in the proper context in my present
life, each subsequent name added to my V-list was met with
more indifference. I
continue to remain flattered that people from my distant
past still remember me and go to the trouble to search for
me. That's where
the flattering part ends.
Once I'm actually befriended and neither of us shares
much personally with the other, I comprehend fully what the
reunion game is really about.
The generations growing up with social
networks will never know what I'm experiencing, as they'll
never lose touch with old friends, not in the very real way
my generation did.
Old friends will just slowly turn into silent
girlfriend's son moved to Thailand when he entered first
grade. He did
not then use Facebook.
All friends he met before using Facebook who've since
moved away are gone. He
doesn't mention them, talk about them, or even go onto the
internet to search for them.
He's still too young to idealize those friendships.
All those he met after Facebook are now on his
friendship list. For
any child born after 2005, everyone he's ever known and
remotely liked will be part of his V-list on whatever social
network(s) are prevalent in the future.
The pragmatism of real friendship,
formed out of time, proximity, and genuine sharing, isn't
replaceable by a social network.
The more I use such networks, I recognize they just
mimic what's going on in the offline world for any somewhat
normally socially adjusted individual.
The people with whom I exchange the most Facebook
posts are the same people I typically maintain contact with
and exchange e-mails with anyway.
However, the fact that anyone can now
be your "friend" at the touch of a button has bred a
cavalier attitude towards friendship in the offline world,
overheard one too many conversations where one party told
the other to "Look for me on Facebook."
No one bothered to ask the other for a telephone
telephone number was too much.
That might imply you'd actually have to see each
other in person later!
Getting telephone numbers doesn't mean
one helluva lot on its own in the internet age either, sorry
Nine months ago I was attending the party of a wealthy
jewelry manufacturer in his elegant flat in a condo in our
didn't invite me to this party.
He didn't even know me.
Other people who barely knew him invited me to come.
I was briefly introduced to him.
Several days later I ran into him.
He didn't remember me, and I had to re-introduce
myself. I was at
the immigration office seeking a re-entry permit after an
upcoming vacation to Bali.
At the mention of this, the jewelry tycoon remarked
that he owned a flat in Seminyak and we should get together
for dinner so he could tell me all about the local hotspots.
He whipped out his smartphone and tapped in my
suspected as he was tapping the digits into his phone that
they were entering a cyber black hole where all information
you never intend to access again is dumped.
Sure enough, I never heard from him again.
I wasn't betting money that he would
call, and I don't take it personally.
Mine isn't the first telephone number to be tossed
into the cybervoid.
Girls were already tossing my number there as far
back as 1984.
But I was surprised that he was so proactive about getting
my number. I
can't help but think that the resultant indifference comes
from today's definition of friendship in an era of social
networking, where you'll befriend someone on Facebook you
may have met for just a second coming out of the toilet
I believe some people are trying to database every single
person they've ever met.
jewelry man is a friend of mutual friends on Facebook, so it
would be very easy for me to befriend him, too.
But what for?
I think that if I ran into him again at the
immigration office tomorrow, he'd be no more likely to
remember me now than he did 9 months ago.
Let's not get confused.
Most of your friends on social networks are more like
subscribers opting to follow your feeds.
You do not need to be friends with someone to read
their columns or look at their photographs.
Perfect example -- you're reading this article on
Doug's Republic at this very moment, and you probably don't
know me personally and, if you did, would probably hate me.
The big difference between the two is that
subscribers probably don't personally know the person whose
site/list/advice they've subscribed to, whereas in a social
network, the pretense of becoming friends with someone is
that you've met them before, maybe for just seconds, or
personally know someone they know.
argue that the subscriber relationship is actually more
subscriber gleans something of value from another's
knowledge or point of view and voluntarily asks to be
contacted. The subscriber may provide comments and input at
a later date that stand to prove more useful to the
knowledge provider than social networking comments like
"Woke up and drank a great coffee with fresh baked donuts
The only person who might care about that revelation is the
commenter's husband and kids, and I doubt they'd care all
that much about it either.
And perchance they're ecstatic about their parent or
spouse broadening the waistline on sugary donuts, surely no
one else in the friendship network is going to care.
There's nothing wrong with people I
genuinely knew in my past not giving a hoot what's going in
my life in the present.
I cut these people a lot of slack.
They may not care what their own kids are up to.
But why get in the line and seek out more people from
my past who don't give a hoot what I'm doing?
If you're a Simon & Garfunkel fan and revel in the
sound of silence, go out and establish thousands of silent
I'll settle for a few who know how to make noise.