Real Facebook “Friends?”

I have a friend — let’s call her Jane. Jane and I have a Facebook relationship.

Jane and I took a class together during freshman year. We sat together at most lectures, engaging in casual conversation of how our days had been and complaining about midterms and essays. Naturally, as most college students do, we added each other on Facebook, leaving the occasional wall post (“Wasn’t today’s class boring? LOL.”) and photo comments (“Pretty!”).

After our class ended, so did our face-to-face interaction. At the beginning of the new quarter we would write to each other about meeting up for coffee, but weeks would roll by, midterms would come around and our get-togethers never happened. “Maybe after midterms,” we’d suggest, which would then become, “Maybe after finals.”

It wasn’t that we didn’t like each other; we got along well and even had lunch together after our final exam. If anybody asks, I still consider Jane my friend and we feel as if we know each other more than we really do.

Sound familiar?

It comes as nothing new to read about Facebook’s continually rising popularity and its addictive nature. A glance around a lecture hall or Starbucks reinforces the assumption: All college students are on Facebook.

It’s a convenient tool. Meet a friend of a friend who is taking one of your classes or majoring in your department? Add them on Facebook so you can discuss future courses and share similar complaints. How about someone you meet at a party? Add them on Facebook and get invited to more parties. Some people end up with 600 or 700 “friends” on their lists, which prompts the question: Are you actually friends with all of these people?

A night of procrastination last year led me to go through my friend list and delete people I didn’t actually know or didn’t talk to and would probably never talk to in the future. My list shrunk by about 40 names, from people who lived in my dorm last year with whom I never spoke with to the random people who added me the summer before beginning at UCI back in 2007, despite never having met in person.

Of course, the most common excuse you’ll hear is that Facebook actually helps us study. “I need Facebook to plan study sessions!” But what about before Facebook or Myspace or Twitter took over our lives? What happened to the days when we used to call each other to set up study dates and social gatherings? People were able to make lifelong friends with their college peers even before Facebook entered the world in 2004.

In September 2007, NYU held a seminar called “Facebook in the Flesh” in which freshmen gathered to hear Assistant Dean David Schachter discuss how online social networking has changed the way people interact — and not necessarily for the better. Schachter discovered that more and more college students, especially new freshmen, find that meeting their peers in person are awkward without a computer screen to hide behind.

Schachter also observes that the art of conversation is suffering. In real life, you can’t wait three days to reply to somebody you are face-to-face with; they expect a reply right away.

Though it is convenient to learn all about your friends via their Facebook pages, there are some who argue that live interaction is just as good as, if not better than, reading about people’s interests online.

“It’s so impersonal to discover new things about your friends through a computer,” says third-year Natalie Paredes. “It just isn’t the same as sitting with someone, sipping on coffee and just talking.”

I won’t deny that Facebook has good qualities and some useful purposes, but if you find yourself meeting someone new in class and feel anxious because you don’t immediately know their favorite movies, what they are “fans” of, or how many lost sheep are wandering around their Farmville farms, then maybe it’s time to start re-thinking the way you interact with others.

I messaged Jane last week, suggesting we actually get coffee and catch up on the last year or two of our lives. She replied a few days later: “Maybe after midterms.”