Published in Blog Archive.
My curiosity kinda perks up when I get a “friend request” on Facebook from someone who I clearly don’t know. This doesn’t even include weird “I haven’t spoken to you for well over two years” requests, or the “I won’t give you the time of day in real life, yet here I am” requests, but simply the people who are flat out alien to my life. Who are these people? What is the motivation? What can be gained from “friending” someone who you couldn’t pick out of a lineup? A quantitative gain, maybe; 1000 friends looks better on a social resume than 10. But there has to be something more.
Part of this issue touches on something deeper for me, personally. Over the last two years or so my life has largely become based on numbers. Working for myself, my worth as a breadwinner is based on pageviews and my ability to somehow turn those into money. Whatever I can do to potentially increase those numbers should technically help drive the end and increase my income. So, does having 2000 followers on Twitter add value to me as a person? Only in that it could potentially increase income down the line. That’s the only way I can imagine justifying “following” 25,000 people on Twitter to receive some 20,000 “followers.” The people who do that still baffle me though, because to simply make the time investment worthwhile, there has to be something more driving them to go to such lengths.
In my life an issue developed once these numbers became the primary focus of what I’m doing. The result was a bit of a blurred sense of what is actually of worth. Is establishing a network of 1000 “friends” somewhere worth something because it could lead to few more bucks every day? Maybe. Because something larger could develop from the “networking”? Potentially. But personally I’ve had a problem in the past keeping this element of online interaction — and its potential for professional growth — separate from how I perceive my worth as an individual. Is something I write only worth the pageviews it receives? Am I only “liked” as much as what my digital footprint suggests? Of course not, but it’s hard to see that when that aspect of life is made paramount. If numbers are behind everything, then everything becomes related to those numbers.
So what’s driving people to reach out to a stranger online? All I can think, based on where I’m coming from, is that it comes from some sense of perceived potential value. Had the “friend request” at least come with some sort of personal extension — a note, a “hi” or a “this is who I am” — it might translate as something completely different. But as it stands, I can’t see it as anything but a stab at increasing perceived value. I still struggle with this: valuing my life through numbers. Occasionally I have my moments of online penis envy — feeling lesser because my metrics don’t compare — but I’m getting better at realizing that the one really doesn’t have a ton of impact on the other unless you let it; online interaction and personal life. I am who I am not because of what some sample of data tells me, but because of what no data in the world can.