THE SOCIAL INDEX: A brilliant analysis of social relationships in the Facebook age in New Yorker.

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Human relationships used to be easy: you had friends, boy- or girlfriends, parents, children, and landlords. Now, thanks to social media, it’s all gone sideways. I decided to try to index these new entities—to draft a sort of Social Media Bestiary. Here it is, so far:


    1. The friend you know well, have encountered frequently in the flesh, perhaps even hugged, have visited domestically, and would invite to your child’s wedding, and with whom, coincidentally, you might occasionally communicate via social media in addition to more traditional friend channels such as lunch dates, telephone calls, et cetera (formerly known simply as “a friend”)
    1. The friend you sort of know, because you have friends in common and have maybe attended the same events—not together, but you’ve both ended up there because you know a lot of the same people. You perhaps would not have thought to invite this person to a small party, and yet you do include him in your wider sense of your social circle—and you now communicate with him via social media more than you ever did before such a thing existed, and you now have a surprising intimacy after years of static, unenergetic just-sort-of-knowing one another (formerly known as “an acquaintance”)
    1. The friend, or friend-like entity, whom you met initially via Facebook or Twitter or Goodreads or, heaven help us, MySpace. You met—online, that is—because… well, who remembers now, anyway? Maybe through some friend of a friend of a friend, or because some algorithm on Facebook “suggested” that you should be friends. In any case, you now interact with this person/stranger frequently—in fact, maybe many times a day—and, as a result, she enters your conversation the way anyone would with whom you exchange chitchat several times a day. When a real flesh-based friend asks you who this person is, you describe her as a friend, for lack of a better word. It’s an awkward description because you have a) never met in real life b) might not actually know this person’s full name or profession or background. Yet you look forward to interacting with this person, and if/when she mentions experiencing a sad event, a birthday, a job loss, a cute baby experience, or a car accident, you have a strong, actual reaction (this sort of friendship formerly had no name at all, since the only kind of liaison that even comes close to this in the history of human relations is that of pen pals)
  1. The friend-like entity mentioned in No. 3—that is, someone whom you know only virtually—but in this instance you and this person have actually met. The meeting was probably brief and a one-off encounter, and it probably occurred because one of you happened to be passing through the other’s hometown. When you finally meet, you spend most of your time chuckling over how much smaller/taller you look in your profile picture.

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