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The changing nature of the word “friend”

This Magazine Staff

I’ve been thinking a lot about the changing nature of the word “friend” in the MySpace/Facebook era. For those of you who haven’t become addicted yet, Facebook is a piece of highly sophisticated social networking software that instantly connects you with everyone you already know, and people that you had long forgotten.
The way to expand your social network on Facebook is to add people as “Friends” — which means you get to see their full profiles, and receive up-to-the-minute updates on how they’re feeling, what they’re wearing, if they are in a relationship (Facebook sends you these crazy newsflashes when people announce that they are now in a relationship. Creepy).
Anyway, I have been receiving Friend requests from the oddest assortment of people in the last few weeks, as have many of my friends (as in real, live friends, not just interweb friends).

For example, I just received a Friend Request from this guy named Darryl that I used to hang out with when I was 15, simply because he had a car. Can you blame me? I was stuck in Unionville, Ontario. He lived in Newmarket. He used to throw parties where they would actually serve beer. His house was so big, it was like a mansion at Disneyland. Mysteriously, his parents were never home. Once we tried to make out, but it fell flat. He was about half my size, and his closet was full of Metallica and Rush t-shirts.
According to Facebook, he is now a technical writer, living — guess where — in Newmarket. His favourite band is — guess who — Rush.
I have also recently heard from a girl was was a camp counsellor with me at posh Jewish summer camp when I was 17. She was always a bit aggressive. I figured she was a proto-dyke. But apparently she’s straight and into “all forms of full-contact fighting.” Her boyfriend looks like he’s in the Israeli Army (his Facebook photo features a very large Uzi semi-automatic weapon). She’s part of a Facebook group called “Palestine is Not a Real Country.” ‘Nuff said. I have rejected her Friend request repeatedly.
My friend Rachel is experiencing a rash of Friend Requests from former childhood bullies.
“I don’t get it,” she writes. “I mean, I’ve had two childhood bullies friend me, and polite person that I am, friended them back, and then promptly ignored them. And now I have this one completely random guy who mostly ignored me in grade school inviting me to join America’s Next Top Model groups. Which is about as opposite from my interests as one can get. And I like to think that I’m at least partially scary! I mean, I have a picture of myself as a zombie. Grrr!”
I have also been “friended” by some gay scenesters that have ignored me at every party I’ve ever been at, a couple of politicians that I’ve tried to ignore at every party I’ve ever been at, oh and my 14-year old cousin who is way more adept in the world of Facebook than I could ever be.
So here’s what I wanna know: Is the internet the great bully eraser? Is having a lot of internet “friends” the new social economy? Is it a popularity game just like high school? Is it a way to erase the high school experience, or to extend it into our 20s and 30s and beyond?

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