Sometimes, I wonder how I have 193 friends on Facebook.
To you, that figure probably seems astonishingly low. To me, it’s surprisingly high.
Of those 193 friends, some have sold Girl Scout Cookies with me, numb outside the automatic doors of Giant Eagle, a grocery store near where I used to live. But many others I know only from the Penn Facebook page.
I have a hierarchy of friends. I call some of my Facebook friends when they’re sick to find out how they’re doing. To others, I send “get well” wall posts. And with some, I just wonder who they are.
Having moved many times, I realize that a greater number of friends could be my failed attempts at maintaining old connections. When I got a Facebook account, I accepted friend requests from those girls I knew 10 years before in elementary school.
I sent messages to these old friends, and last week, called one girl in Ohio that I haven’t spoken to since 2003. That phone call taught me that some of those friend request acceptances were mistakes.
The girls from elementary school are very different from the images frozen in my mind. We have different values, different beliefs and can’t connect over our favorite movies or four-square anymore. Had we met at Penn, we wouldn’t be friends today — and given that I’ll also never see them, I wonder why we’re Facebook friends.
I know you’re not close with all of your Facebook friends either. You probably have a hierarchy of Facebook friends as well. But if that’s the case, why do we have all those friends in the first place?
As clinical psychologist Roger Fransecky said, friending “sustains an illusion of closeness in a complex world of continuous partial attention … Every day 25 new people can march into your living room … My first thought it was impolite not to respond. Then I realized I couldn’t put them all in a living room — I needed an amphitheater.”
I don’t have an amphitheater. I just have my brain. And according to British anthropologist and Oxford professor Robin Dunbar, the brain can only maintain stable interpersonal relationships with 150 people. Yet, Facebook’s cap on friends stands at 5,000 people. Some users have even reached that generous limit and have gotten the digital “tsk tsk.”
But those larger friend lists really just increase the artificiality of online friendships. Do you really know that much about all your Facebook friends — how many of your 736 friends have you talked to in the last year? How many have you even met?
And here’s the problem: all those Facebook friends cause undue stress. A study conducted at the University of Edinburgh found that people with more friends were more anxious to present themselves favorably in social media.
Scientists in Berlin updated the study last week and found that in presenting that a favorable image of themselves — posting all those smiling vacation photos — Facebook users sparked envy and loneliness in many of their friends.
To minimize negative effects, ensure that Facebook friends are those whom you care about outside the online sphere. Hanna Krasnova, who directed the Berlin study, notes that in real interactions — sharing an album over coffee or telling stories over the phone — jealousy is eclipsed by feelings of joy and closeness.
If for no other reason, we need to make our online friendships meaningful because the Facebook-friendship is becoming the new norm — whether we like it or not.
Divya Ramesh is a College freshman from Princeton Junction, N.J. Her email address is email@example.com. You can follow her @DivyaRamesh11. “Through My Eyes” appears every Monday.