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ISSUE 118 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/18/2005

Friendship Commodified

By Brenna Bray
Staff Writer

Friday, March 18, 2005

Confession time: I stayed up until 3 a.m. to create my Facebook profile, and I am one of the most avid Facebook “recruiters” on campus.

I belong to 13 groups on Facebook – three of which I created – and I have 149 friends as a result of the time I’ve spent on this colossal, time-wasting database.

I qualify as what Dana Quinn ’05 calls a “friend-slut.”

Sometimes I wish I didn’t have so many friends.

I wish I would not have requested so many random acquaintances to accept me as their friends when I first logged onto Facebook.

I wish I had a better way to manage my friends.

I wish that college student and Facebook producer Mark Zuckerberg would create a feature that would allow me to categorize my friends into different levels of friendship.

Instead of simply confirming a friendship request, I want the option to “confirm as a best friend,” “confirm as a close friend,” “confirm as an acquaintance,” “confirm for the sake of adding friends to my network” or “confirm that I hate you but I’ll accept you anyway.”

It is petty of me to want such categories.

It is also petty of me to want to classify my friends.

But it is just as petty of me to use a site that encourages me to view my friends as little more than profile pictures accompanied by summaries of their favorite music, books, movies and quotes.

Yet, this seems to be the genius of Facebook.

Although Facebook, like America Online (AOL)’s instant messenger service, allows you to collect “buddies,” it does not allow you to “chat” with them.

Facebook also allows you to send messages to friends, but I still rely on SquirrelMail for my e-mail needs.

The “poke” feature – as fun as it can be – literally does not mean a thing.

“We thought it would be fun to make a feature that has no specific purpose and to see what happens from there,” Zuckerberg wrote in Facebook’s Frequently Asked Questions section.

You can add comments to your friends’ “Walls.” You can also use the messaging feature to text-message your friends’ cell phones.

I cannot claim to have received any Facebook text-messages, and my “Wall” holds little entertainment for me.

The genius about Facebook is that it exploits two distinct developments of our society – the convenience of digitalized media and our commodification of virtually anything and everything.

In the stalkerish way that it one-ups St. Olaf’s “Stalkernet” and even “Moodle,” Facebook multiplies but weakens our friendships.

We can now look at our friends’ faces and learn their favorite modes of entertainment without spending any actual time with them.

All it takes to “add” friends is a click of the mouse and the opposite party’s approval.

Is this really the way we define friendship these days?

If a friend is someone whose picture and profile we can connect to our own to increase our total number of friends, then what makes friendship so special?

Are Facebook friendships special at all?

And if popularity is defined by who has the most friendships, then Facebook adds new meaning to the implications of popularity.

Suddenly, the most popular person is simply the one who spends the most time updating his or her profile and searching for connections.

It is the person who falls the hardest for the newest digital distraction from real life.

And what is it about our society, our friendships and our greed that urges us to count and to collect our friends?

Why do we need to have a list, a receipt, a proof of purchase for our friendships?

In a world that aims to package and sell everything, Facebook turns friendship into a commodity.

Media Studies Professor Bill Sonnega cautions against our society’s urge to commodify individuals. “Nothing is exempt from the force of the market,” Sonnega said. “Nothing is incapable of being commodified.”

Facebook encourages us to collect our friends and trade our connections in the same way that our parents collected and traded baseball cards.

With the Facebook phenomenon burgeoning around campus, we face the danger of viewing our friends as commodifiable materials.

I am not a commodity.

That said, please create a profile and Facebook me!

Staff writer Brenna Bray is a junior from Stillwater, Minn. She majors in psychology with a media studies concentration.

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