Counting friends can be harmful

We all know digital communication is here to stay, and it makes many things faster and easier. But it also creates more problems.

With social media, friends are counted and categorized, information is given to some but not to others and notifications (or lack thereof) spell out the condition of a person’s social life. This is the landscape of a large portion of communication in the digital age.

Our communication has become quantifiable.

Our emails are saved, along with the time they were sent and who they were sent to. Conversations via text messages are stored in discrete units — it is easy to count a number of replies and look up who replied last or even which text was the awkward one that killed the conversation.

The average user has come to embrace these characteristics, but some things are better left uncounted.

Take Facebook friends. To count how many ‘friends’ you have, you must first decide who is a friend and who is not.

Many Facebook users might go through friend purging. People are added, forgotten and later deleted.

I doubt many people consciously characterized their friends like this until the advent of  social networking.

Applying numbers to things like basic communication with our peers elicits an expectant attitude. But people are not discrete units called “connections.”

There is little we can do, or should do, about stopping quantifiable communication.  We can, however, be conscious of what we are implying when we delete and categorize Facebook friends, and exercise other “privacy settings.”

Unless we are careful recognizing the marginalizing effects of quantifying relationships, we can count on a decline in the distinguishing characteristics that make us human.


Alan Wong is a freshman majoring in East Asian languages and cultures.

1 reply
  1. Defriend you on Facebook
    Defriend you on Facebook says:

    Like the cliche, “quality, not quantity” is what counts. Prior to Facebook, Friendster, My Space and every other abstract, social online entity, how did people socialize?

    I have lived in the Los Angeles area the vast majority of my life, and we all know that Angelinos are putative for being fake and venal. In other words, we masquerade in the social realm in order to try to get ahead; we try to forge alliances with people whom we believe will enable us to get to the next level, but with a disregard as to whether the relationship is genuinely amicable or not; it’s a dog-eat-dog world.

Comments are closed.