As of this writing, I have 345 Facebook friend requests. I’m humbled that so many people want to connect with me! As an extroverted person who works mostly alone, this is a bit of a dream come true. But I usually accept requests from folks I’ve met in person right away, so most of those pending requests are from people I’ve never encountered face to face.
I struggle with this. I likely give more thought to friend requests than would even be intended by many who sent them! Probably, they are people I’d totally want to know. Glancing through, I have at least 10 common connections with the majority of them, and almost all appear to be in the regenerative agriculture, grazing, and/or permaculture circles I frequent. But it’s also likely that some of those connections are tenuous at best; these days, having mutual friends in common with someone doesn’t mean quite what it used to.
Facebook seems to have taken note of this; nowadays, when you accept a friend request a message is sent to both parties saying “You're now friends with x, Send a message to say hello!” I suppose the idea is to nudge people to introduce one another, but shouldn’t that happen beforehand?
It’s easy to forget that the more clumsily we treat our online connections, the less valuable they become. Remember that even though Facebook has many a dedicated mind to managing your social connections for you (ick), any new person will represent more stimuli for your brain to take in, process, evaluate, sort, and otherwise respond to. And conversely, sending a friend request equates to asking permission to witness another's world, and to place your cares and concerns in their feed--quite literally, in their mind!
So in an effort to better steward our time and attention in an area in which it really matters—how we treat one another—I’m proposing a few simple things.
For those of us trying to connect, let’s consider:
- Sending fewer requests. Let's take a moment to consider if we really need or want to connect with that person. Are there alternate paths that utilize the Facebook platform? For example, could we take advantage of the Follow feature? We could write the person whose work or ideas we are interested in and suggest they enable that feature, or create a professional page if they are of that caliber. They may not know that this is an option, and might appreciate the reprieve!
- Exploring alternate ways of following that person’s professional contributions. Maybe they have a blog or a Twitter feed. Maybe they are regular columnists or contributors to online media. Let's examine our own intentions in connecting – do we want to be in their inner circle? If so, why?
- Sending a message to that person explaining our interest. Not only does this distinguish you from the dozens of other requests that person may have received recently, but it demonstrates that you respect the person of interest’s time and attention enough to account for your interest. It also gives them more information to work with when deciding whether or not to connect!
When on the receiving end of requests, let’s consider:
- Checking our message requests and filtered messages folder… regularly! Sadly, Facebook has taken it upon itself to filter out often very legitimate messages from your regular message inbox. One time I received a very generous offer to attend a workshop from a well known figure in my scene with whom I had over one hundred mutual friends but was not yet friends with. Mysteriously, the message landed in my filtered messages inbox and I didn’t see it until it was too late for me to make plans to go. Messages I’d want to see are filtered out of my inbox once or twice per week, so it’s worth circling back to periodically.
- Enabling the Follow feature so that people have that option instead of sending requests.
- Remembering to change the privacy settings of posts we’d happily share with anyone to Global, so that there is actually something to “Follow.” Speaking from my own experience, if I know someone is up to really cool stuff that I want to learn about, but their last publicly shared post was months or years ago, I really want to add them as friends so I can see what the heck they’re actually up to.
These aren’t revolutionary suggestions. In fact, they are such minor tweaks that this whole post feels like overkill! But I hope this can put us in a slightly more thoughtful posture about how we connect with others, or at the very least stimulate the development of personal ethics of connection that might inform broader norms over time.
Is there anything I forgot? What is your approach to connecting with others? I’d genuinely like to hear from you, so leave a comment if you’d like to share.