No Alarms and No Surprises (Please!)

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation about the effects of social media – and Facebook in particular – on how we experience reencounters. My conversation partner, who is not on Facebook, told me the story of how she stumbled upon an old friend she hadn’t seen for years and how they went for a drink to tell each other what had gone on in the last couple of years. The updates my conversation partner received from her old friend were very interesting and surprising. Her old friend had a family now with two kids and seemed to be in a completely different life situation than some years ago when they had last met.

Now, we discussed the implications of Facebook on such (random) reencounters. We came to the conclusion that Facebook would have taken out the surprise and newsworthiness of that random encounter. Had my conversation partner had a Facebook account, she would have been updated about most major life events of her old friend (who is on Facebook). She would have known that her old friend had founded a family and born two kids. She would have been “prepared” and in the know when she stumbled upon her old friend. At the same time, the conversation with her friend would have been much more boring, predictable and less revealing – and in the end less exciting.

So, being connected to many friends on Facebook has its upsides, especially for those who are very interested in their less immediate social environment. It keeps us updated and is quite useful in many situations. On the other hand, it makes spontaneous reencounters more predictable (+ it can lead to awkward situations when you or your counterpart know “too much”, i.e. more than the social norm of what’s to be expected by checking your Facebook once in a while). It decreases the excitment of certain social interactions.

A suggestion could thus be: Always keep a couple of “mysterious” friends who are not on Facebook! It makes your life more exciting. Or alternatively: Don’t overcheck your Facebook friends!

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