I remember the address book that lived in a drawer in the table where my parents’ landline telephone sat. I wasn’t a very social or sociable kid, but when I made a new friend and was given their phone number, I had special permission to add it to the book. Steve G., Joe S., Jay A., wherever you are now, you earned a special place in that red, faux-leather address book that still exists on Weaver Road in Ohio. That was the official demarcation point separating “my friend” from “kid I talk to in class.”
Today? Friendship is not official until it’s Facebook Official. It’s the modern day address book, a catalog of our friends and acquaintances. And unlike the old pen-and-paper address book, you can look at a Facebook profile and see your web of social connections. 82 friends in common, 23 friends in common, friends-of-friends you might not have met yet, but who are people you may know!
But we’ve all got some randoms on our friends list, too. The lone trees in the wilderness with no web of connections, no mutual friends, holdovers from other lives or social groups. Past girlfriends or lost connections who sought you out (or who you sought out) to scratch some existential itch. Because if you’re not friends on Facebook, how do you know they’re real?
There are names I type into the search bar from time to time. School friends or dimly recalled vacation acquaintances, folks I met once or simply haven’t heard from since they moved away when we were both in the fourth grade. Are they real? Are they misremembered ghosts? Will it make them more real if I can find their online avatars, send a request, and see it confirmed? Does your in-person connection with another human soul still count if there’s no virtual proof?
When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is check the notifications on my smartphone for the words “The first thing on your calendar today…” It’s another sign that it’s 2014 and we live in the future. A sizeable portion of our working minds have been outsourced to external hard drives. It’s such a ubiquitous idea that anyone who spent any time at all watching the Every Simpsons Ever marathon on FXX recently has seen the Windows Phone commercial for Cortana, a potential Siri replacement that promises to help an affably-voiced man remember his wife’s anniversary.