Friends Without Benefits

We went and saw The Social Network on Saturday night.  It’s a pretty good flick.  It begins and ends with stats.  The opening line is Mark Zuckerberg telling his girlfriend that there are more geniuses in China than there are people in America.  Now that is just a solid Chinese statistic (and we’re big fans of those around here).  Here’s the stat at the end: Facebook is currently valued at around 25 billion dollars.  25 billion dollars.  Spoiler alert: Facebook is valued at 25 billion dollars.  (For those that haven’t seen it, I haven’t ruined the ending.  You still don’t know how many of those billions of dollars remain in billionaire Mark Zuckerberg’s name, or whether Facebook gets really popular).  Another stat:  Oprah was saying the other day (Spoiler Alert!) that it is estimated that about one in every fourteen people on the planet has a Facebook account.  I’m not joking.  You know those tribes in the interior of Indonesia who are thought to have never met up with the rest of society, and still remain in their true primitive state?  We know this about them because their relationship status says “Isolated.”


“You never responded to my poke, Ryan.  What is going on with you lately?”

I’m just trying to wrap my head around all this.  The movie spends most of its time going back and forth between different parties who claim that Facebook was their idea, and they should get the money and the credit for it.   Of course there were those in the movie that heard about the idea at its inception and weren’t that blown away by it.  After we left the movie, I still wasn’t that blown away by it.  In fact, even though I have a Facebook account, have seen the idea in action, and know that the idea is worth at least 25 billion dollars, and have sat through a feature-length film on the subject, I still don’t think I’m that impressed.  A great idea is something like a water gun that attaches to a hose-end filling station.  Or a high-frequency whistle whose audio frequency kills bees on the fly. But a boring white website that lets you collect lists of friends and then forget about them?  Not that great an idea.  Yes, I realize that some might point out that the 25 billion dollar number is evidence that this is at least sort of a good idea.  But I think it’s more likely that that whole 25 billion dollar number came about because around one in fourteen people on the planet are a little bit stupid.

Interestingly, we happened to see the movie with the one friend of mine who has always been a pretty big Facebook booster.  A few years ago, long  before I ever had an account, he kept bringing up some old high school name and saying, “yeah, he’s my Facebook friend now.”  It was kind of funny to hear about these people from the past, and even more funny to think that my buddy was now friends with them, after not really being friends with them in high school.  Having heard so much about Facebook from the cool people around me, I kept asking him to describe the experience of Facebook– what’s going to happen between the two of you now that you’re friends?  Are you going to get together for lunch?  Now that you have hundreds of Facebook friends, are you still going to have time for me?  Especially given that you and I are NOT Facebook friends?  It was all a little mysterious.


I’d like to introduce you to some of my closest friends

But one thing I’ve learned is that when some great new innovation comes along that sweeps everyone up, that doesn’t make sense to me until I join, I just need to join and then I’ll see the magic.  DVR’s were like that.  Twitter was like that.  The Kindle was definitely like that.  So I set aside my doubts and jumped into the Facebook world.  Went out and got me some friends, put together a little profile . . . then I ran out of what I was supposed to do.  Every few weeks I got a new friend request.  I would hit “accept” on those.  That was kind of fun.  I get an email every month that tells me how many of my friends have a birthday that month.  That can be pretty interesting to see that some of your friends share the same birthday month.  And . . . I’m out of things to do on Facebook.

So I went back to collecting friends.  But after a few months, I stopped trying to find friends, and stopped accepting many friend invites, because I had reached a number of friends that I figured was the maximum sustainable amount.  It occurred to me that no real person on Facebook would ever try to get many more friends than this, because at that point you’d be admitting that your friends weren’t friends at all, but just numbers in a big collection.  Surely, I thought, there’s a maximum psychological threshold of how many friends one wants to have here, and I have reached it.  I assumed everyone would have reached this same conclusion.  At that point I had around 160.  Almost too many, right?  I mentioned to Davis that I was pretty much maxed out.  He laughed and laughed.  Turns out Davis has 534 friends.  Oh.  Kook has 431.  Former DDDT guest contributor Ronald has 1121 friends.  Some of them are Indonesian tribesmen.


Hmm . . . ‘Ted wants to be friends.’   Looks nice.  *Accept*

So yeah, I guess the joke’s on me.  Just because I can’t figure out what my current 237 (that’s right, that’s one in every 28,258,455 people on the planet) friends are for doesn’t mean you can’t figure out what your six hundred friends are for.  I am sure you are busy having tea parties and scrapbooking nights and roller blading outings with them all the time.  My Facebook friends don’t do super well at staying in touch with me like that, but I know that most good friends are a lot better at that than mine are.  I do love seeing how they’re all doing whenever I check in on my Facebook account.  There is a girl that I served my mission with (I think that’s how I know her–  I don’t know for sure) that is having some struggles getting her three year old to go to bed!  And an old friend of mine (that is, he might be an old friend of mine– I’m assuming here) just went on a really great cruise somewhere.  This is the kind of information that we have friends for in the first place, isn’t it?  And to play farm or mobster games with them too, and sometimes debate with them about Obama.  That’s worth a few billion dollars right there.  Mark Zuckerberg must have been some kind of genius, huh?  I bet he’s part Chinese.

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14 Responses to Friends Without Benefits

  1. Macy Bell says:

    I really liked this movie. Aaron Sorkin, with all of his fast talking, wordy genius was back and he did a great job with this one. The actors all were really, really good. Loved Justin Timberlake!

  2. Gina says:

    The most ironic thing? At least one of your readers will share this on Facebook.

  3. Elisa says:

    *sniff sniff*

    Why are we not facebook friends? Do you not like me? Do I smell? Am I really as weird as Braden always tells me I am?

    I’m going to go eat mud.

  4. So Mr. Bell, I think the one thing you forgot to write about is the positive social networking aspect of Facebook. Sure it’s fun to see what ugly Kari from high school is doing now with her life, but for me Facebook is a social networking tool not unlike Linked In. I’ve found users to test my website, someone to buy my timeshare and even a job opportunity for a sibling. I’ve heard my whole life that it’s who you know, not what you know and Facebook is quickly becoming the cyber emodiment of that idea. Social networking is a powerful tool and those that are successful in this life have learned how to use it. And now that there are websites like Facebook and LinkedIn, they just makes it easier and faster to connect with your network. I agree that Facebook may not seem like the $25 billion idea that it is (BTW-Mark Zuckerberg owns 24% of the company so he is worth ~$6B), but how can you argue with 500 million users?

    Manager of 606 FB friends

  5. Ryan says:

    Macy’s right. Great flick. Not sure if it has anything to say, but it was a lot of fun. The acting was exactly what acting should be- credible and realistic, but with a definite prejudice toward being entertaining.

    Gina, the irony isn’t lost on me. In fact, the first thing I did after hitting ‘publish’ on this post was to go pass it around the DDDT Facebook group. How great is that?

    Elisa, I’m not even sure if I’m Facebook friends with my wife. So, you know, it’s not the best measure of how I think of people. 🙂

    Griggs! What’s up?

    You’re a real booster, man. Impressive. I recently tried to sell my house via a Facebook update, and no one bought it. Clearly, Facebook is entirely useless. (I know Ethan would disagree with all of this, but for those of us who aren’t getting actual checks from FB corporate, it’s different). I don’t disagree with the idea that it’s about who you know. I’m just not sure I “know” anyone from Facebook.

    (By the way, your sign off was perfect. “Manager” is a much better term for what we do with our friend collections than “friend” is. Maybe “curator” would be better though, huh?)

  6. Braden says:

    Totally with you, Ry. Totally.

  7. Christian says:

    $25 Billion? Typo, dog. You meant $25 Million, which is still sort of impressive.

    I don’t know. It sure has revolutionized stalking, so that’s a big plus. And it’s an entertaining distraction. And it is making us wealthy with the money we’re making by selling our DDDT Facebook Group member’s personal info to email marketing companies. So I don’t know. I’m giving it a thumbs up so far.

    Did you see the Oprah the other day with Zuckerberg? Me neither. But he showed the small house he rents with his girlfriend in Palo Alto. Funny. Good for him.

  8. Lindsey says:

    I posted it on Facebook just to make sure Gina’s prediction came true.

    Is there a “best friend” status on Facebook? Will you be mine?

  9. Ryan says:

    Kook, I actually did see that. Pretty crazy he lives in that house, huh? What a weird life he must have. Very strange to be a 25 year old self made billionaire after just five years of work.

    Lindsey, I’d love to be your Facebook best friend. I think that translates roughly to “someone I might speak to if I passed them on the street,” which is a pretty big deal for most Facebook users.

  10. Ben Pratt says:

    Collecting friends LOL. It’s so true. I know every one of my FB friends, though there are a few I’ve ever met in person. But yeah, I’m far beyond the psychological threshold you mentioned (it actually has a name: the Dunbar number).

  11. Too funny – and too true. But I continue to collect FB friends just to see what they’re up to and such and then not do much with after that. It’s true that it’s a good networking tool, as it has been the best way for me to generate readers of my photography site. I’ll have to see the movie. Loved the 3-yr old going to bed line. Lololol. And Christian selling our personal info. Dying.

  12. Gil Fennewald says:

    Only always remember it’s all in ones head what you might accomplish and how fast

  13. Just as a follow up, I remember once when we were walking the streets of Porto in 1996 that you said that you don’t need friends and that you could survive quite well and be happy without human interaction. I always admired that quality in you because it basically says that you are fine with who you are and you don’t need a bunch of friendly reinforecment to define yourself. I also thought you were lying because I still believe that at the core of human happiness is relationships: father, mother, sister, brother, friend, colleague, and even casual acquaintance. What would this life be worth if we wandered around doing and collecting things without having anyone with which to share our experiences, our ideas, or even our possessions? Warren Buffet claims that his life is not measured by his billions or the companies that he owns or any material things, but by the relationships he has built with friends and family. And isn’t that what social networking sites are all about in the end….about relationships? It’s true the most of what happens on FB is just fluff, but if it helps me maintain my circle of friends (now it’s more a large polygon with a few outliers) then I think it has met its purpose. And besides, it’s free!

  14. Ryan says:

    Wow. I guess I can’t deny that that is something that sounds like what a 19 year old Ryan Bell might say. Beyond that, that statement has absolutely no connection with anything I believe 15 years later. What you need to do, if you remember anything else I said back then, is say “yeah, he was really stupid back then. Brilliant now, but really stupid back then.”

    I couldn’t agree more with you that relationships are almost the whole purpose of life. I’m just not sure Facebook is really a very valuable manifestation of that idea. That said, I’m sure some people have figured out how to make it valuable. Every year when I see a Facebook notice of your Christmas concert, it warms my heart, so maybe there’s something to it.

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