Dear David Plotz,
I enjoyed your article a lot. I thought the birthday experiment was brilliant and I think it speaks to the fact that people; especially in the younger generation have completely changed the meaning of “friend.”
I completely agree with you on the fact that people are building all this social capital, but I don’t think that they know they are actually building social capital. If people truly knew the worth of social capita they wouldn’t use facebook and other social networks the way they do. If they knew, they would try to get to know the people on their facebooks on a deeper level and would really try to be friends with them because only in this way can they can actually use their social capital. Only this way can they truly use those people on their facebook as resources.
Because people don’t know the worth of the “friends” on their facebook is why we have, as you call it, “programmed, canned, and impersonal” birthday greetings. You mention that these are only from people who aren’t ones friends, I want to disagree with you on that. I think that all of the facebook greetings whether from friends or not are impersonal simply due to the fact that they are on facebook.
Our generation seems to know less and less what personal is, that is why people use facebook and blogs as personal journals, is not that they are not aware of the fact that everyone reads it, it’s just that they want everyone to read it. Today, if we actually had a personal birthday greeting it would be a phone call, an email, a card, even a text message because then we know that the persona actually remembered and that you actually mean something to them. It wasn’t just that they logged on facebook, and it was convenient for them to say “hpb” to you because it is also their other friend’s birthday.
I think one important connection that we can make as to why people care less on an online setting is brought up by Parks & Floyd – “Making Friends in Cyberspace.” They mention that “social cues are filtered out in on-line settngs. Rleational cues emanating frin the physical context are missing, as are nonverbal cues reguarding vocal qualities, bodily movement, facial expressions, and physical appearance.” So the whole facebook experience is nothing more than emotionless words. To me it appears that because these cues are removed people no longer know what a friend is, the few physical beings that one is close to and talks to the most and shares actual real life memories with. With the removal of these physical emotional ties, now everyone becomes a “friend.”
In the end I truly think that people, especially the younger generations of fecebook users, think of facebook as more of a game of collecting people that are all perfectly housed under friends and will be there at their convenience.