‘Do you want to be my friend? Please.’

Now we are six. Or, at least, we might as well be. The title of A. A. Milne’s book of children’s poetry seems to perfectly describe how we interact with each other, make friends and live our lives. Friend. It’s a simple word that carries a lot of weight.

Now we are six. Or, at least, we might as well be.

The title of A. A. Milne’s book of children’s poetry seems to perfectly describe how we interact with each other, make friends and live our lives.

Friend. It’s a simple word that carries a lot of weight. Our friends are the family we choose. They are the people who love and support us, and are there when we need them.

We have history with our friends, we’ve gone through a lot together, and when we make new friends, we build that friendship, including them in our lives and investing in the relationship. But the word friend has come to mean something else entirely.

Friends might as well come from a vending machine now that websites, or “social networking utilities”, like MySpace and Facebook allow you to accept or decline friend requests, make requests of your own, and amass a list of people in which the true, real friends are few.

Regardless of our actual age, we act like six-year-olds on the playground, running up to people and asking them to be our friend before we know anything about them.

If we find they’re not interesting enough, don’t like the right kind of music, or just aren’t as cool we thought they were, we can delete them. Just like that, a so-called friend is removed from our life.

Granted, these sites are incredible networking tools. They allow us to contact people who, otherwise, would be much harder to reach and to catch up with old friends who have faded from our daily lives.

MySpace allows you to network with bands, companies, and organizations, on top of individuals. According to the “About” section of their website, “MySpace is an online community that lets you meet your friends’ friends.

Create a private community on MySpace and you can share photos, journals and interests with your growing network of mutual friends!

See who knows who, or how you are connected. Find out if you really are six people away from Kevin Bacon.”

MySpace allows you to post your own music, videos, and anything else you deem interesting.

For anyone looking to get noticed by a lot of people in a short period of time, MySpace is the way to go. Bands and movies now frequently direct the public to their MySpace because it generates so much publicity. It has changed the way we interact.

Similarly, Facebook connects people through networks related to either your school, city or workplace.

According to its website, “Facebook is a social utility that enables people to understand the world around them. Facebook develops technologies that facilitate the spread of relevant information through social networks, allowing people to share information online the same way they do in the real world.”

The problem is, it’s not the same as the real world.

It’s the Web. It’s not normal for hundreds of people to have access to personal details of our lives.

Each member does have control over which parts of their personal profiles are visible to their friends and networks, but most people don’t set restrictions.

There are those who use these websites solely for networking and leave their personal lives out of it, but the majority are not so careful.

Everyone on Facebook gets a news feed on their homepage that tells them every time one of their friends does something. As of 10:06 p.m. on March 22, 2007, parts of mine read:

Natasha Duchene wrote on your wall. 10:01 p.m.

“OMG. That is so awesome. thanks!!!”

See Wall-to-Wall.

Liz Eeuwes and Alex Clermont are now friends. 9:08 p.m.

Megan Kingston is watching TV and doing laundry. 7:34 p.m.

Updated: Shauna Gale wrote on Megan Kingston’s wall. 6:42 p.m.

“Hey you!! It’s been a while since I talked to you. How’s it all going?

Call me sometime, and by that I mean in the near future!! I’m home from work by 6. Love ya!!!”

See Wall-to-Wall

The majority of what I’ve witnessed on these networking sites is a trend of people who compulsively post personal information online without seeing the bigger picture.

If you divulge details of your private life on the Internet, it’s no longer your private life.

Being behind a computer screen creates a false feeling of safety and a less intimate way of communicating. Computers are meant to be a tool, but they are increasingly becoming our life.

MySpace allows you to view people’s complete profiles, with the exception of photos, without being on that person’s friend list. If your age is listed as under 14, only “friends” can see it.

On Facebook, anyone on your friends list or on your network can view your profile, unless you change your privacy settings.

All your photos, personal details, relationship status, favorite bands, movies, quotes, books, etc. are laid out for the world to see.

In our day to day lives we don’t randomly invite people to be our friends and then remove them on a whim.

We take time to get to know people. But what happens when the way we treat people online carries over into real life?

These social networking sites are creating patterns of behaviour that make us believe it’s normal to interact with people this way. It’s not.

Once we become dependent on a computer to communicate, we may lose our ability to relate to people without one. And where do we go from there?

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