I wonder whether Paul Simon could have imagined Facebook when he wrote these words. I'm guessing not, but I think of them quite often when noodling around on FB. I doubt whether the Coen Brothers had FB in mind when they shot the chilling scene in No Country for Old Men of Javier Bardem calling the man in the store 'Friend-o', either, but frankly FB sometimes reminds me of that too.
One of the strangest and most disconcerting conversations I've had lately took place a little while back when I rang the office of a publisher to check on some publishing details that hadn't been included with the review copy of their book that I was reading.
(Note to publishers everywhere: editors and reviewers need media releases to be provided with the review copies, and on the media releases we need to be told the publication date, the ISBN, the Australian RRP and the number of pages. If you do not provide this information, then we have to waste hours and hours trawling the internet for it. Now ask yourself whether putting editors and reviewers to this unnecessary trouble is something you really want to do. Thanking you in anticipation, lots of love, Pav xxx)
Anyhoo, there I was, on the phone, and the phone rang and rang. I wasn't familiar with any of the people at this particular publishing house and didn't know any of their names. Finally someone picked up. I gave my name, I made my request for information, and there was a pause. And then the voice on the other end said, with a faint note of reproach tinged with accusation, not '$29.95' or '304 pages' or October 12' or '978-1-84471-130-9'*, but 'You didn't accept my Friend request on Facebook.'
Now I have had a lot of strange things said to me in my many years but I do believe that that one took the biscuit. I think, coward that I am, that I may have apologised. I muttered something about only accepting Friend requests from people I did in fact know. Then I repeated my request for information, which I was given, and I hung up shaking my head in wonderment.
Facebook is very clear about not sending Friend requests to people you don't know. And anyone who cares at all about their personal safety and privacy and who knows even just the very first thing and no more about the potential vexations and dangers of social media is always going to think twice before they accept a Friend request from someone whose name is unfamiliar to them.
The last time I foolishly accepted such a request, the person in question, a man of strong and eccentric opinions, cut and pasted a 'Note' I'd written in FB -- assuming, as you do, that only my FB Friends could read it -- into his own page, offering it up to his own thousand or so 'friends' as an opinion to be ridiculed. Boy did he get the chop in a hurry. But he taught me a valuable lesson.
There's another good reason not to accept requests from people you don't know, which is that the more FB friends you have, the less attention you pay to each person's updates and posts. I'm only on Facebook in the first place because it's such a great way of keeping in touch with a far larger number of people than I could ever manage to stay in touch with otherwise, but am still really glad to go on knowing. I use FB precisely in order to be able to give those people some of my time and attention, not to give it to total strangers and their lunch menus and their 800 pix of their dogs and kids doing cute stuff. I want to know about my friends' lunches and dogs and kids, but it's a hell of a stretch to ask me to care about those of total strangers.
I've accepted Friend requests from a number of people I've never actually met but whom I know by reputation or through their work. But to anybody else who for some mysterious reason decides that you want to be my Facebook Friend even though I've never met you (and it's something I can't imagine wanting to do): sorry, I don't accept those requests. It's just a rule of mine and it's absolutely nothing personal. And the very fact that there's nothing personal between us is the reason why.
*ISBN randomly generated to protect the innocent -- if it really exists at all, it's not the one in question.
In other writing news… - This announcement comes via the UK magazine The Skeptic: Special announcement: we have a new legal column, which will be contributed by Geoff Whelan of GMS...
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