Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Life lists

I've written before about Facebook and the interesting human behaviors it engenders. Lately I've been thinking about the way people approach their 'friend' roster. Some, seeing Facebook as a way to keep people in their lives informed, limit their friends list to a relatively small group of friends, relatives and maybe business associates. They can be reasonably assured that the news they put out there will be seen and appreciated by people who actually care.

Others collect 'friends' in a way somewhat reminiscent of birders' quest to see and record as many different species in their lifetimes. Among these folks, there seems to be a desire to catalogue every person they meet. Take, for example, a woman who took one of my Ellis Island tours. As we were parting, she showed me the screen of her smartphone and asked if she'd spelled my name correctly. She wanted to add me to her friends list.

She knew virtually nothing about me, nor I about her. We'd spent one hour together, tops, yet she wanted to include me on her Facebook roster of people she'd met in New York.

I can kind of understand the quest to reconnect with old classmates or work colleagues, but total strangers? What good could come out of inadvertently letting people you don't know into the details of your life? It always seems that the people who have the largest friends lists are the ones who record every waking moment on their Facebook page, and they often have very loose privacy settings. Just about everyone can see what they're posting. Is it really wise to let virtual (or even total) strangers know you're on vacation? You don't know who these people are, and you have no idea whether they'll be tempted to rob your house while you're away.

When I asked this woman (politely, of course), why she would want to 'friend' me, she said that then I could contact her whenever I visited the Minneapolis area, and that there'd be a bed in their guest room for me. Really? Seriously? Once again, you want a virtual stranger to stay over at your house? Maybe I'm just cynical, but that doesn't sound very wise.

Cataloguing birds on a life list is harmless, and it's unlikely a peregrine falcon would have its Facebook privacy settings restricted, anyway. Oh, and anyone who studies birds can easily figure out when they'll be away from their nests. Then again, they don't have very much to pilfer, either. And I doubt they keep life lists of people they see.

As for Facebook, I think I'll keep my friends list a bit more contained.

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