I am not a big Facebook user. I don’t keep up assiduously with posts of people to whom I’m connected and if I hadn’t set up my WordPress posts to flow automatically to my Facebook page there’d be almost nothing up there. It puzzles me why people would communicate 1:1 through FB rather than email. I do keep a ‘daybook’ of notable things I did on a given day, but it is for me to refer back to later, not for anyone else. (Is it really interesting to anyone much beyond Gavin and me, for instance, that this morning, blocks away from where the Bruins were parading through the Boston streets with their Stanley Cup and thousands of idolators, I went to hear a harpsichord recital at the Boston Early Music Festival by an old friend of mine, Gavin Black, in from out of town? It was superb, by the way. ) So the major reason I’m there is so people can find me and vice versa. Being networked as an end in itself, not so much as a tool.
Every so often I go through the people FB suggests I might want to befriend to see if there is anyone I really know, or used to know. Many, or most, of these are suggested because they and I have mutual friends. I’ve noticed a curious fact about these suggestions. Within the past year or so, I passed some kind of tipping point. When I click on the mutual friends’ notation to see how I’m connected to these people, I usually find that the several friends we have in common are disparate, from different and unrelated realms or epochs of my life. (“She knows both x and y?”) My FB network is closing in on itself. Maybe it is just an artifact of the fact that the suggestion process is based on prior connections but I still find it surprising. Would love to see a cloud-type diagram of my FB network, depicting links between people in some graphic way.
Recent work about the ‘degrees of separation’ notion suggests that there are particular nodal people who are broadly connected and act as bridges for other, more marginal people to connect more broadly. I guess I must have some of those in my network. With FB, however, it may not be people who are truly a friend to many, but rather people who are simply less discriminating about linking to others. Although when I have linked to people I don’t really know I have usually really enjoyed the ensuing connection, my principle is that I don’t want to ‘friend’ people to whom I would not really refer as friends, broadly speaking. (That’s probably why I don’t go to my high school and college reunions.)
The looping back on itself of my network reminds me of this, “A Subway Named Moebius”, a 1950 science fiction story by A. J. Deutsch which for some reason has stuck with me ever since I read it as a child, and about which I have written here before. Deutsch:
“The principles of connectivity state that as a system makes more connections to other parts of itself, the connectivity of that system increases in an exponential fashion to staggering levels. The subway under New York City had been growing in complexity for years. It was so complex, in fact, that the best mathematicians could not calculate its connectivity.
Then the first train disappeared. The system was closed, so it couldn’t have gone anywhere, but when all the trains were pulled, they still couldn’t find it. The searchers would see a red light, wait curiously, and hear a train passing in the distance, sometimes so close that it appeared to be just around the next bend. Where was the train? What happened to the passengers? Professor Tudor has a theory…”
And here is a page which collects, along with the aforementioned story, other ‘Moebius literature.’
A couple of other observations about my FB network. I’m surprised to see I’m one degree of separation away from some pretty famous people, mostly writers, politicians and folksingers. I have resisted the temptation to ‘friend’ them just because of their notoriety.
With regard to those people to whom I’m connected by surprisingly unrelated paths, I wonder if they are sitting there similarly surprised when my name comes up on their suggestion lists. (“Eliot knows both x and y?”) If so, I don’t end up hearing about it. I’m not sure other people peruse the lists of suggested connections with the same interest and curiosity I do. The ‘degrees of separation’ stuff has always fascinated me. No man is an island, and all that…
I would love your comments on this. Are you in my network? Are you connected to me by disparate paths or links?