Social networks and me

As I have mentioned before, I am not a very sociable person. It is not that I am anti-social, shunning all human contact. It is that I am better described as asocial, someone who can interact with others on occasion and when necessary, but am perfectly comfortable being alone with my books, my thoughts, and of course the internet, where you can interact with the world without interacting with actual people.

For example, I hate attending large parties where one is expected to indulge in meaningless small talk with people one barely knows and likely will never meet again, but delight in small gatherings of close friends. I also enjoy interacting with students and colleagues at my university but after all such encounters, I long to get back to some solitude to recharge.

So it may come as a surprise that I am a member of several online social networks. I joined Facebook in its very early stages because I was curious as to what it was about. I also got a Twitter account in its early days for the same reason. I joined LinkedIn because a colleague and friend sent a message asking me to ‘link’ to her and I thought it would be rude to ignore or refuse her request. But in each of those cases, I do not use those networks at all, although the accounts still exist. You could say that I am an early adopter as well as an early abandoner of such things.

What surprises me is that despite my total passivity with all these platforms, from time to time people request to be my ‘friend’ or ‘link in’. If I know the person even in the slightest, I accept the offer. But I am puzzled when people whose names I do not recognize in the slightest make such a request. Again, I feel it would be rude to ignore or turn them down but am puzzled as to why anyone would want to connect with someone they do not know.

As a result of these requests I now have 143 friends on Facebook and 44 connections on LinkedIn. I suspect that this is tiny in comparison with others but I am shocked that it is so high, given my asocial nature and my complete passivity on these platforms. Even more bizarre, I even have 41 followers of my Twitter account, even though I have never sent a single tweet and do not follow anyone! If a Twitter-inspired revolution similar to the ones in the Arab spring were to ever occur in the US, I would be one of the last to know.

Any ideas as to why people want to friend or link to people they don’t know at all?


  1. Kyle says

    Perhaps as you describe yourself as being ‘asocial’, those requesting friend or linked status would describe themselves as ‘ubersocial’.

    Given that you run this great blog, it is no surprise to me that others would want more Mano 🙂

  2. grumpyoldfart says

    Comedian, Sean Lock, understands the importance of Twitter:

    I’ve had a few requests for friendship, but I always delete the message. I don’t know what a “friend” is obligated to do (and I’m not interested in finding out) so I say “No” to the request and do nothing.

  3. unbound says

    I’ve had a couple of friend requests that turned out to be a misunderstanding. I’m very careful with my Facebook account since I keep my friends and family updated about my kids via that channel, so I’ve had to question a few people.

    I’m suspicious that the linked in requests for people I don’t recognize are either people looking for new jobs, or are recruiters themselves. I tend to just ignore those requests if I don’t recognize them.

  4. Thorne says

    Interesting that so much of how you describe yourself could describe me so closely. I’ve been online since the late 90’s, but just joined Facebook within the last couple of months. I have a grand total of 13 “friends” there, all of them immediate family. I have turned down numerous friend requests from aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. as well as from people I don’t know who only know OF me through one of my siblings. Just today I received my first (hopefully last) request from linked-in, from my daughter-in-law. I ignored it, since I don’t have a membership there and have absolutely no desire to be “linked” with anyone!

    I’m probably more anti-social than you claim to be, too. I have no close friends, since I never kept up with the few friends I had before moving here in the late 70’s, and I’ve never bothered to cultivate any friendships in the last 30 years, either. Like you, I’m happy with my books and being online like this. Like you, I don’t go to large parties (not just hate them, I don’t GO to them) and any small gatherings I do attend are almost always strictly family. And even those are hard for me.

    One thing I’ve found, though, is that I no longer worry about being considered rude, to anyone. Not that I go out of my way to be rude, but I don’t worry about being perceived as rude. If I receive a soliciting phone call, I simply announce that I’m not interested and I hang up. I don’t wait for any explanations or apologies. Automated calls, of course, get an immediate hang-up, without saying anything. And if I don’t want to go somewhere, I simply say so, and if somebody doesn’t like it, the hell with ’em!

  5. Lofty says

    In the shallow world of modern culture the number of online friends you have is a ranking score of self-value. I am sufficiently secure in myself to not have any social media accounts at all. If someone wants to get to know me they have to make the effort to identify themselves as people worthy of interest. The other multiple billion people can go hang.

  6. bubba707 says

    I’m alot like Thorne, bordering on antisocial. I’ve never bothered with the social networking crap, it looked to me to be more of a pain in the arse than it was worth. Even at that I still get email requests to friend someone even though I don’t have any presence on those networks. I stick to my guitars, kayaking and metal detecting, all solo passtimes.

  7. daved says

    Linkedin is worth considering if you think you might be job-hunting any time in the foreseeable future. By coincidence, I was just looking at it (I log onto it perhaps a few times per year) and was amazed at the number of people I knew that it thought I might know. It can be very handy for making connections when job-hunting, in any case.

  8. Thorne says

    I don’t know if my own situation has less to do with being “sufficiently secure in myself” as it does with having a heightened sense of personal privacy. I don’t see the need to post pictures of myself or my family for the world to see. Nor do I need to inform everyone every time I go out of the house. My only concession was to start a Facebook account so that I could get pictures of the grandkids. My only “friends” are my siblings and my children (and their spouses). In the approximate two months since I started the account I haven’t posted a single personal item on the page. And that’s the way I like it.

  9. henry gale says

    Facebook uses a pretty powerful algorithm to recommend people to follow. So if a student of a fellow professor at Case decided to follow that professor, Facebook may recommend you as someone else to follow.

    Or if someone friended someone like Ricard Dawkins, if you have atheist in your Facebook profile they might see your face as a recommended person to follow.

    Facebook even recommends based on geography and many other factors.

    With Twitter there are many tools where people can follow others in bulk. So you configure the tool based on some criteria and it will auto follow 100 or more people. Many do this on Twitter because there is some level of reciprocity – if they follow you they hope you’ll follow back. The end result of that being their follow count increases.

  10. Thorne says

    But what’s the point? Just to have as many people as possible following you? Or just to have some huge number of people you’re following? Is it some sort of popularity contest?

    Well, they can keep it. I don’t follow anyone, I don’t have plans to friend anyone beyond what I have now. And to be honest, if I could get my kids to email me pictures of the grandkids I’d drop my Facebook account in a minute. It’s far more trouble than it’s worth.

  11. Marshall says

    Mano–you are the author of a well-liked blog, and as a result, some of your readers will want to feel a bit more connected to you that they are as a passive reader. Friending someone with a known internet presence, in the modern day, is sort of a way of saying, “Hi, I’m a stranger but I like and support what you do” and there’s a sort of a good feeling when that person accepts your friend request, because it’s sort of saying, “welcome to my community stranger!”

  12. Mano Singham says

    It would be nice if the request came with some small statement as to how they feel connected. That would make sense. What bothers me is the idea that some people simply spread the net wide to haul in as many people into their network as they can, even if they have no sense of connection with them.

  13. Mano Singham says

    I only noticed it after you pointed it out. ‘Sort of’ has become kind of background noise that nobody seems to notice when they are saying or listening.

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