Time and time again I’ve heard people talk about the shallowness of Facebook. About how it fosters a sense of false intimacy by enabling us to have many relationships of precious little depth. And I’ve heard this spoken of as if it’s a bad thing. But as I look at the names of former students and former high school classmates among those on my roster of friends, I’m beginning to think that a little shallowness is not such a bad idea, and actually may be a pretty good one.
Why? Well let’s start out by considering my old High School. The East Orange High School class of 1974 had about 435 students in it. My wife’s entire high school didn’t have that many students in it. But going on, this meant that there were roughly 2000 students at EOHS. There was no way that I knew all of them…heck, I didn’t even know all of the kids in my own class…but I came into contact in some way with quite a few of them on a regular basis.
Out of the 400-odd kids in my class, I recognized maybe 200, knew maybe half as many, regularly traveled with 30, and was really good friends with about 15. But the fact that I wasn’t really good friends with Sharon didn’t stop me from greeting her in the hallway and asking how she was. The fact that Eric was in the class below me, and was really one of my sister’s friends, didn’t stop us from talking when we ran into each other at the library. And the fact that I only really saw Michelle in study hall didn’t stop me from playing Scrabble ™ with her in Dr Handleman’s room every day.
There was a lot of shallowness in EOHS because while you couldn’t possibly be everyone’s best friend, you could still know a little something about them and be nice to them.
Then there were the kids I spent up to nine years with at Ashland Elementary School, but who went to Scott High School because they lived on that side of the line that Ashland straddled. Even though Brent wasn't a regular part of my life anymore, it was nice to see him when we went shopping at Pantry Pride, or when I was riding my bike near Upsala College. I didn’t have to engage in deep conversations with people like him, but it was definitely nice to know what they were up to.
That’s the great thing about the supposed shallowness of Facebook…it’s like running into Sharon in the hallway, Eric in the library, Michelle in Dr Handleman’s room, or even Brent near Upsala. It’s not just about staying in contact with the 150 or so people that sociologists say are your real friends, it’s about briefly hearing about what Suzie’s doing, or seeing pictures of Paul’s grandchildren (am I that old?) without feeling the need to sustain a long conversation. It’s running into these people in the hallway again.
And let’s face it…some of us just try too hard to connect, or reconnect, anyway, and it feels awkward for everyone as a result. But if we can be as comfortable with the “shallowness” online as we were IRL, then it can be a wonderful thing. Maybe a quick little response to someone’s status update is really all that’s needed.
This is why I generally accept all friend requests from people I remember from high school…even if I didn’t hang out with them. We share a common past, and it’s great to be able to run into them in the hallway again. Yes…I still have my really close friends who I talk to all the time, but there’s something to be said for those “mere acquaintances,” and keeping in contact with them, no matter how tenuously.
And so I say, “Bring on the shallowness!”