Facebook and Friends

By Seán Mullan

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Mammy, you probably haven’t quite understood the thing about “friends” on Facebook. The reason we got you to sign up was so you could be in touch with the far-away children and grandchildren, see the photos and read their news. And you’ve been doing so well with the iPad that we’re sure you’ll soon master Facebook too. But sometimes it can be confusing.

The grandchildren that are old enough to have their own Facebook pages are not so keen on having their Gran look at their posts. They’re afraid of what you might see. That’s why they won’t be your “friends”. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It means they don’t want to be friends on Facebook.

In fact, when you say “friend” on Facebook, it doesn’t mean “friend” in the way you usually mean it. I have friends on Facebook that I haven’t seen in 30 years. I was just being nosy when I sent them a request to be my “friend.” I wanted to see what they look like now and if they’ve put on more weight than me. Now that I’ve seen that, I really have no interest in staying in touch. And they probably haven’t either. But it seems a bit rude to unfriend them.

Mammy, you have lots of friends who will never be your “friends” on Facebook. And you have “friends” on Facebook who will never be your friends.

People that I don’t even know send me “friend” requests. But I accept because I’m afraid I should know them and they’ll be offended if I don’t accept them. Though why I’m worried about offending someone I don’t even know from Adam, I’m not sure. So on Facebook, “friends” doesn’t mean friends. 

Now that I think of it, “like” on Facebook doesn’t mean “like” either. On Facebook you can like something that you don’t really like at all and you can have friends who you’ve never met, don’t care about and wouldn’t even know if they were to pass you in the street tomorrow.

Mammy, you have lots of friends who will never be your “friends” on Facebook. And you have “friends” on Facebook who will never be your friends. I know this is probably very confusing; : I’m getting a bit confused myself. Maybe we should write to Facebook and tell them to find some other word of their own. But I don’t rate our chances. 

I wonder should we find a new word for friends - I mean the people you’ve shared your life with, like Rosie down the road that you met the first day you went to school. Or Joan who took you out to lunch every week the year Daddy died. Or Mick from over the hill, who still takes you to the hairdresser every Saturday even though he’s hardly safe to let behind the wheel of a car. And I think of Mary that you’ve written to every Christmas and birthday since I was a child even though she hardly ever writes back. And the girls at the bridge club who probably know you better than any of us do.

They’re FRIENDS rather than “friends”. The thing about FRIENDS is that you don’t really choose them - you don’t accept or reject them. You just wake up one day and realise they are your FRIENDS - usually you’re not even too sure how it happened. But somehow you’re together. 

It brings to mind a line I heard read out in church - I think it was Jesus talking to the 12 apostles - the greatest love is to lay down your life for your FRIENDS. But we’re a long way from Facebook now!


Seán Mullan has been working in church leadership for many years. He has developed a new project in Dublin City Centre called “Third Space”.