The Softer Side of Facebook — Tribe Building Share by Share

Opinions abound about Facebook these days, many of which are focused on the discussions and disagreements around politics that spill from our newsfeeds to the dinner table; the companies that leverage the platform to grab our business (judging from my bank account, quite successfully); and some of the subversive element propagating ‘fake news’ which the company has publicly announced it will fight.

Less discussed is something quieter and more subtle blossoming from my Facebook newsfeed — connections previously categorized as acquaintances have slowly grown in my estimation based solely on their posts, ‘likes’ and ‘shares’.  A number of these ‘tier two’ connections (for lack of a better way to categorize this group) have begun looking far more like ‘tier one’ without more than a passing interaction spent between us offline.

So what makes a T1 or T2? Like most people, when I first joined Facebook I added best friends, close work confidants, college roommates and family (well, most family). From there, it was the person I didn’t know all that well in high school or friend of a friend I met at a party, or even the university friend of my husband and/or mum of my daughter’s best friend. The second tier are ones I rarely or briefly see. But as people post places they visit, entertainment they love, parenting advice, political beliefs and even a naf video or two they find hysterical, I have begun to draw my circles differently.

As I read the posts of these acquaintances, I find myself embracing their passions, laughing at their jokes and thinking ‘wow I really get this person…we should be FRIENDS (versus just friends)’. This feeling has spilled into my offline day-to-day as I embrace a T2 like we’ve known each other for 20 years.

So while it’s more common to talk about the eye-rolling your cousin’s sister’s perfect vacation photo of her tan, flat stomach and six perfectly behaved children inspires… we can miss the way in which social platforms like Facebook are reshaping the idea of how we make new friends and what constitutes a connection.

It seems obvious that our online, virtual world is perfectly constructed to make us lonely. But perusing a feed solo can also strip out the meaningless, fleeting, sometimes boring offline interactions that never amount to anything. There are no meals wasted, time stolen, feelings hurt, hangovers had, by focusing singularly on someone’s communicated thoughts – regardless of how simple,  irritating or inane the post.

Instead of dampening our emotional response, social platforms can actually speed up the process of connection.  I have found myself reaching out to those I enjoy ‘listening to’ on Facebook and meeting up with them socially. Maybe you would have learned that they have a wicked sense of humor or share your political beliefs by having the time to grab a coffee or talk at a party; but who has time really. Instead of cutting out offline interactions you instead cut to the friend chase.

It all feels very technical and algorithmic in approach but however you get there, online or off, it’s worth reaching out to the like-minded and taking the time to connect in whatever way you can; and from today through until your 90+ perferably. The future of our increasingly digital world depends on an assurance that what makes us human doesn’t disappear.

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