I don’t think the Friendster craze is going to follow us into 2004. Personally, I am relieved. I found Friendster disturbing from the very first “An Invitation to Join Friendster,” email. Friendster, promised the emails, would provide me with “new people to hang out with and date.”
I am honored that these people, who I already considered my friends, wanted to be my Friendster. I hold them in the highest esteem, and I would gladly join any club of theirs that would have me as a member. However, they overestimate my desire to meet and/or date their friends. I have this odd quirk that makes me hard to set up on blind dates. I have to actually meet people to decide if I am going to like them. I don’t just like people because they are friends of my friends.
I am a big proponent of the one degree rule. This rule states that while you should love your friends fiercely, you really can’t account for anyone more than one degree removed from yourself. You might love your best friend’s boyfriend/girlfriend/other best friend. But you are also just as likely to hate them as you might any stranger, if not more so. This is because you know the side of your friend that they elicit in you. Together you create your own special world, full of things the two of you care about. It is easy to forget that your friend has other sides. The two of you eat grilled cheese and make fun of reality television shows. The two of you always end up drunk and peeing on a public landmark. You can always count on this friend to eat at the health food restaurant no one else likes. You go panel discussions at the New School together. You do drugs no one else does, you care about aspects of interior design no one else cares about, you never plan to, but you always tell them your romantic problems and they speak the truth no one else speaks. Whatever. But the rest of the time, your friends, your beloved friends, are hanging out with other people doing things you hate. Your favorite drinking buddy? She also loves Disney and is seeing Disney movies with her other friend. The brilliant ironic filmmaker? The rest of his friends are evil mean filmmakers. Your lovable fratboy friend who is really deep and smart? His other friends are just regular dumb mean homophobic frat boys. That girl who understands your penchant for expensive jeans? She, unlike you, does not maintain this as a quirk of her personality. The rest of her life is expensive and she has the friends to go with it. Things you don’t like or don’t notice in your friends might be amplified in their other friends. So you are quite likely to loathe your friends’ friends, as they will reveal to you a side of your friend that has nothing to do with you, and they will embody that side to an unbearable degree.
Of course, more than an actual meeting place, Friendster is a venue for the socially hypercompetitive. My roommate knows some girl who has 238 Friendsters. It is for compulsive players of the Name Game. “You went to the University of Blah Blah? Do you know so and so?”
I hate that game. It is so stupid. Yeah, I know so and so. She went crazy/got married/became a lesbian/gave up lesbianism. Really? Wow. Yeah, I know so and so, he’s so great. Blah blah blah. Oh, he moved to Thailand? Wow. I never would have guessed that when I barely knew him at the University of Blah Blah. Oh, I am so relieved. Now we can have context because we both know So and So from the University of Blah Blah. I can sleep with you now and not worry that you are a violent psycho, because if So and So were here in this mundane conversation and not in Thailand, he could vouch for you.
Whatever happened to going out and meeting TOTAL STRANGERS? What ever happened to meeting weird people in bars, or on street corners, or on the fire escape or roof or stoop of an overcrowded party? Or waiting to meet your friends’ friends through the natural course of events? MUST WE MAP AND RECORD EVERY ASPECT OF OUR LIVES IN THE NON-SPACE NON-TIME OF THE INTERNET? DOESN’T ANYONE JUST GET DRUNK AND WALK AROUND AT NIGHT ANYMORE AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS?
One day, these people on Friendster are going to find they’ve ruined all the surprises.
Friendster is great for one thing, though. It proves how disgustingly incestuous and insular and limited the fancy-college artsy-twentysomething world is. Every time you click on someone, it tells you all the ways it can think of that you are connected to them, and often there are more than one. It’s like the Kevin Bacon game. It’s like we’ve gotten so bored with actually knowing people just want to keep little trading cards of them. As we march toward the fantasy of a purely technological existence, we perfect not ourselves but our internet representations of ourselves.
Also, Friendster, in keeping with its Yearbook of Hipsterism quality, seems to have devolved into a competition of who can be the most flippant, so everyone is posting pictures of defunct famous people instead of themselves. My Friendster-obsessed roommate, trying to show me the benefits of Friendster, encouraged me to see if this friend-of-a-friend my friend is always saying I should hang out with and possibly date was actually on Friendster. He was. “Now you can find out stuff about him,” she said. I looked at his picture. “I don’t think I find him attractive from his picture,” I said. “Emily,” she said, “that’s not him, that’s the dad from Family Ties!” And I just felt stupid.