Facebook and Your Friends

Over on Facebook I see a fair number of people linking to the story that although the average Facebook user has 155 “friends” on Facebook, there are also on average only four of those “friends” that a Facebook user would call in a genuine crisis, suggesting that just because you are “friends” with someone on Facebook, it doesn’t mean you are actual friends with them in the real world.

My thoughts on this:

One, hey, having four people you can reach out to in an actual crisis is a pretty good number;

Two, I’m not sure why this is at all surprising to anyone at all. Just because Facebook calls its connection mechanism “friending” doesn’t mean that everyone you connect with there are actual friends; they’re merely people who, for one reason or another, you’ve decided to connect with on a social media network. It’s not in the least relevatory to me that the number of “friends” one has on social media doesn’t make much difference to the number of people you consider actual friends, or the number of people who would help you bury the proverbial body.

Here’s a thing about social media, in my experience of it. The people (or entities) one follows on it tends to be part of three groups which overlap but are not exactly the same: The people one cares about, the people one knows of, and the people who one is entertained by. Only one group of these is properly friends; the other groups may or may not be acquaintances, and their presence in one’s feed comes down to the fact that most of us like to have a varied mix of things to look at when we sign on and scroll down. Someone does not need to be your friend to entertain you, either by telling you tidbits of their own life or by putting up links to material they’ve found online that they find interesting.

Can people you otherwise do not know become your friend through online interaction? Sure, although (also in my experience) eventually it helps to make an offline connection as well, to confirm that the comfort level you have with them isn’t just an artifact of online presentation and the fact that it’s mediated in a way that face-to-face encounters aren’t. I have a number of friends I’ve met online. I’m not going to rely on any of them to bury a body with me until we have that click in the offline world.

But then again, how many people do you need to be willing to help you in a crisis? Four really does seem sufficient in most cases. Likewise, if you have two or three dozen people you would call your true friends, well. That seems a lucky amount to me. That’s a person a day for a month you’d be delighted to hang out and spend time with and involve in your various shenanigans. That’s a full life right there, folks.

My personal Facebook feed has (currently) 641 people in it, most of them people who I’ve known personally (meaning, actual physical face-to-face time) at some point in my life, starting from elementary school and moving through my life now as a writer and author. Are they all my friends? Well, some were friends back in the day, and might be friends again if I got to spend face time with them in the physical world. Some are people I’ve more recently met who I would like think could become friends with me if circumstances allowed.

Not everyone of my Facebook Friends is a current friend, but the way I curate that list, the potential for friendship is there, at least. One of the reasons to connect on Facebook is to keep that potential humming along, through the exhibition of pictures and news about our lives. This qualifies as mutual entertainment as well; I like knowing about them and I hope they like knowing about me.

But I don’t expect the vast majority of my Facebook cohort to feel obliged to help me in a crisis. It seems a little much for me to pick up the phone and expect the guy I knew best when we were in elementary school to drop everything and tend to me. And maybe he would! But it seems a lot to ask. I save that for the few people that I already know are there for me in that capacity (and for whom I’m willing to serve in that capacity as well). It’s more than four, I’m happy to say, but not so much more than four that it invalidates the general concept.

The article I linked to above says “The results suggest that people with hundreds of Facebook friends are kidding themselves if they think they can maintain a network so large.” Well, no. They’re not kidding themselves if, one,and again, they realize that just because Facebook calls their connection “friending” it does not oblige them to actually be friends, and two, if they recognize that some people they’ve “friended” are there to be entertainment (and for whom they are likewise entertainment).

And there’s not a thing wrong with that! Thank you, Facebook friends, for entertaining me with your lives and links. I hope I do likewise. And don’t worry that I’ll send a message asking for money, or a kidney, or for you to show up somewhere in the middle of a rainstorm with a shovel and several gallons of lye. Most of you will never get that call. I think you’re happy about that, or should be, anyway.

The Battle of the Scamperbeasts: An Epic Poem, Translated From the Cat Tongue

Once upon a time
There was a kitten on a stairwell
Basking in the light of the sun
As kittens are known to do.
And all was peaceful in the land of kittens.
Or so it seemed.

But then another kitten
Jealous of her sister’s place in the light
Decided that the light should be hers alone
And attacked! And thus
The Battle of the Scamperbeasts was joined!

At first
Sugar’s defense of the light was devastating
And Spice learned that her assumptions
That her sister would easily surrender her position
Were in fact foolish.

But then Sugar
Perhaps overconfident
Fell prey to Spice’s vicious counterattack!
Clearly this was a battle
Of two equally matched foes.

“How could this happen?”
Mused Sugar
During a hard-won break in the battle.
“Should it be a mere sunbeam
Could rend the true bonds of sisterhood?
Are we not better than this?”

But the existential quandaries of life
Would have to wait.
The Battle of the Scamperbeasts was rejoined!

But then
Sugar raised to her paw
To halt the next onslaught!
“Sister!” she cried.
“Wait! We do not need to fight!
There is enough sunbeam
For the both of us!
Join me in the light!
Together we can enjoy its luminous benefits!”

This proposal
Was not well-received.

With a heavy heart
Sugar knew there would be no peace
Until Spice was vanquished.
She attacked!

“Alas!” cried Spice.
“In my foolish pride
I thought I could keep the sunlight to myself
And deprive my sister of its boon!
Only now in defeat do I see
That the true darkness was in my own heart!”

And with that
Spice leapt from the banister
Plunging into the inky depths
Of the front hallway.
The Battle of the Scamperbeasts was ended.

Sugar once more
Resumed her place in the light.
Would Spice return?
Would she again demand
Sole possession of the sunlight?
Or could they
In sisterly accord
Bask in its warming glow?

These questions would have to wait.
For now, it was time to nap.

TO BE CONTINUED(?????!?????)

The Big Idea: Jennifer Brozek

A question that authors often ask themselves: Who am I writing this book for? For Never Let Me, a compilation volume of novels by Jennifer Brozek, the author discovered who she was writing her series for — which included, among others, a very specific set of people.

JENNIFER BROZEK:

My Big Idea hid from me until I finished writing the last book of the Melissa Allen series. The compilation, Never Let Me, encompasses Never Let Me Sleep, Never Let Me Leave, and Never Let Me Die. It also includes the new short story, “Never Let Me Feel.”

There were two motivating factors behind me writing the young adult novels starring Melissa Allen. The first was: Write what you want to read. In my not-so-humble mind, I liken Never Let Me to “What if Stephen King specifically wrote for teenagers back in the day?” I read a lot of King’s work growing up and loved it. Part of me always wondered what if he had written a story specifically for me as a teen? I pondered what I thought that would look like. Then I wrote it because that’s what I wanted to read.

The second factor was the need to write a flawed, mentally ill character whose mental illness didn’t make them a superhero or a villain. It just was. The illness was one more invisible, personal thing to deal with—like migraines or gastric reflux. Too many times, mentally ill characters are taken to unrealistic extremes—savant, dangerously wicked, innocent to the point of child-like—when, in reality, they are just normal people trying to get through the day. They are medicated, dealing with side effects, and know that even when the chemical cocktail is working today, it might not work tomorrow.

In specific, I watched daughter of one of my friends—her name is Cait—grow up fighting with her illness, dealing with the side effects, and sighing over the issues with her psychiatrist. I helped her as much as I could. I never thought it was enough, but I didn’t know what else I could do.

Cait stuck with me all these years, even after I moved away from her. I knew that she never had a mentally ill protagonist in any young adult book she’d read that she could look up to. I wanted to write this series for her, and for the other teens like her who struggle with mental illness on a daily basis. I wanted her to see the heroine in herself.

I never thought of myself as a heroine. Growing up, I had a lisp and a stutter. I went to three years of speech therapy to bring my speech into something much more acceptable. I’m dyslexic. Also, I am high-functioning autistic. I never saw a protagonist like me in any of the stories I read. For a long time, it didn’t occur to me that someone like me (or Cait) could be a hero. People like us weren’t heroes.

I wanted to change that. At first, it was just for Cait. She was the one I’d written the novels for. She was my ideal reader. Then, as I expanded the stories and the protagonists, I added a character for my mom. This character has a congenital defect in her hand like my mom. My mom didn’t have a hero like her to read about growing up. I thought she deserved one, too. In the end, when I sat back and looked at what I’d written, I realized my Big Idea.

I was the one I had written these novels for… because they were about people like me and about the everyday people around me. I wanted to see fictional heroes that mirrored the real life heroes I looked up to every single day of my life. Including the person I looked at in the mirror. She may have a stutter when she gets excited. She may rock when she’s tired. She may not always understand the expressions she sees on people’s faces. She may have bouts of anxiety… but she is still a hero.

Sometimes, we write the heroes we need to see in ourselves.

Never Let Me: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Powell’s|IndieBound  

Read excerpts from Never Let Me Sleep, Never Let Me Leave, or Never Let Me Die. Visit the author’s page or blog. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.