Dear Miss Manners: With the use of online chatting and social networks like Facebook, some people feel comfortable sharing their current state of mind on away messages or status messages. For instance, a friend of mine had the following message up: “The misery just doesn’t end. Yet another bad week.” Another friend had this message up: “Good to know I’ve found the person I might be ready to settle down with.”
When I asked the first friend why she was having a bad week, she said that “things” have been happening lately. I tried to get a little more information from her, but realized she wasn’t really providing me with any, so I backed off and just told her I hope things would get better.
She later mentioned in the online conversation that I was not a good “conversationalist.”Am I supposed to beg people for information from now on?
As for my friend who thought announcing a soon-to-be fiancee was an appropriate thing to do on Facebook, I tried asking him about his status as well. His response was that he would prefer to keep things on the “down low” for now and that his status message was not an invitation for people to pry into his business.
Am I going crazy here, or are people really sending mixed signals? It seems to me that some people purposely try to get you to ask them questions, but when you do, they brush you off or act like YOU are the one prying into their business, even when they opened the door in the first place. Why is it so hard to be a good friend these days? Help!
Gentle Reader: Your friends are turning into virtual friends. That is, they want to advertise their every move and feeling to a presumably rapt and admiring audience but do not want to participate in the give and take of actual friendship.
The model for this, as Miss Manners is not the first to observe, is the celebrity. They “do” publicity through trusted chroniclers—in this case themselves—but are huffy about their “privacy” when they manage to attract someone’s interest, which must be seldom enough.
So to continue your admirable concern for friends, Miss Manners is afraid you must note whether their confidences are being made to you as a friend or the wide world of virtual so-called friends who are not expected to show interest. Or you could make new friends with people who value real friendship.
I find it fascinating and telling that so many people feel compelled to write to advice columnists begging for guidance on how to conduct themselves online. I think it shows that things like facebook are now part of mainstream culture (notice that newspaper articles about it now rarely include the formerly-requisite apposition ", a social networking site where users find and communicate friends through a public profile,") but that they're still so new, there are no accepted "rules." Or at least, as in any foreign culture, the subtleties aren't apparent to the newcomers. I wonder how long it takes for a new mode of communication to become institutionalized in a way that people feel comfortable with "the rules."
I wonder how long it took with the telephone, like, that Americans answer with "Hello" (unless you're my dad and you answer with "SPEAK") and Italians with "pronto" and CSI people with their last name only, and that to call after 9 p.m. is officially questionable, unless it's a really good friend for a really good reason. This could be someone's sociology/anthropology dissertation. You don't even have to credit me.